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Table Talk: Romantic repasts for Valentine's Day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Guess what tomorrow is.

If you don't know the answer (Valentine's Day) and you have a significant other in your life, this column's for you. It's going to bail out your forgetful self and give you the chance to impress your sweetheart with the appearance of a well-considered and prepared dinner.

And it will cost you much less than dinner out, which you probably would be eating at either 5 or 10:30 p.m. as all the prime reservations times are already taken.

You have your choice of three menus: simple and fresh Shrimp and Parsley Pasta with Bibb Lettuce and Peach Salad with Vanilla Vinaigrette; inexpensive but impressive Pork Tenderloin stuffed with Spinach, Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella; or elegant Beef Wellington Tarts.

I confess that the shrimp and pasta dish was not originally slated for this column. I planned to make a scallop and chervil pasta dish. I found myself at the grocery store picking up ingredients a scant hour ahead of an appointment to photograph the dish and discovered that the store was out of both scallops and chervil. Without time to make another stop, I improvised.

I'm not sure they ever have fresh chervil, actually, which is an herb in the parsley family with a delicate taste of anise. Licorice isn't my favorite flavor anyway, so I bought Italian flat leaf parsley. Instead of scallops, I purchased shrimp.

The simple combination of tender shrimp, fresh parsley, lemon and goat cheese turned out to be a light and flavorful meal when tossed with pasta. In a nod toward the romantic nature of the meal, I lessened the garlic flavor by smashing the cloves, gently cooking them, and then removing the smashed cloves from the saucepan leaving a hint of the flavor behind.

The slices of Pork Tenderloin stuffed with Spinach, Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella make a colorful presentation with surprisingly little expense or effort. You might have to enlist the help of your Valentine, however, when tying up the rolled tenderloin. The job requires another set of hands, unless you're particularly dexterous.

The salty prosciutto in the filling married well with mashed sweet potatoes and a green salad tossed with a slightly sweet vinaigrette.

Showy Beef Wellington Tarts are a contemporary take on classic Beef Wellington. Instead of wrapping a tenderloin, duxelles (a finely chopped mushroom and shallots mixture) and foie gras in pastry, this recipe layers the same ingredients on a square of pastry. The crisp, buttery puff pastry forms the foundation for the decadent flavors. I'm not a big fan of foie gras, so I didn't use it when I made the recipe and thought the flavor was still plenty rich.

As is obvious from the accompanying photographs, Valentine's dinners at my house have already been prepared and eaten, so we might go out for dinner. I wonder if we'll have the 5 or 10:30 p.m. seating.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.

Shrimp and Parsley Pasta

Serves 2

1/2  pound dry spaghetti or cappellini

2     tablespoons butter

2     cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2  pound large raw shrimp, peeled

1/2  lemon, juiced and zested

1/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1     additional tablespoon butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2  cup Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped

2     green onions, white part only, chopped

2     ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Lemon wedges for serving

COOK pasta until al dente in boiling salted water according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.

MELT 2 tablespoons butter over low to medium heat in sauté pan. Add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn. Remove garlic pieces from pan and discard.

ADD shrimp to pan and cook until they turn pink. Remove shrimp from pan. Add pasta water to pan and heat until reduced in half. Add lemon juice, zest, red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon butter, cooked shrimp, parsley and green onions. Stir.

REMOVE to bowl and toss shrimp mixture with pasta. Place on plates and sprinkle goat cheese on top. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. Butter Lettuce, Peach and Goat Cheese Salad with Vanilla Vinaigrette

For the salad:

Butter leaf lettuce, torn into small pieces

1    peach, sliced thinly

Goat cheese crumbles

Glazed walnuts

1/3 cup olive oil

3    tablespoons white wine vinegar

1    teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1    teaspoon tarragon leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

COMBINE lettuce and peach slices in large bowl.

WHISK olive oil, vinegar, vanilla, tarragon, salt, pepper and sugar together.

POUR desired amount over greens and peaches and toss. Sprinkle goat cheese and walnuts on top and serve.Pork Tenderloin stuffed with Spinach, Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella

3   cloves garlic, crushed

2   tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2   teaspoons Dijon mustard

1   teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1   pound pork tenderloin

1 1/2 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

2   cups fresh baby spinach

2   tablespoons chopped sun dried tomatoes

1   ounce thinly sliced prosciutto

Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

COMBINE garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil and pepper in a small bowl.

CUT a lengthwise slit down the center of the tenderloin to within 1/2-inch of bottom, being careful not to cut all the way through. Open tenderloin so it lies flat. On each half, make another, lengthwise slit down the center to within 1/2-inch of bottom; cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Flatten to 1/4-inch thickness with a mallet.

REMOVE plastic wrap; spread half of the garlic/Dijon mixture on the inside of the pork. Layer the cheese, spinach, sun dried tomatoes and prosciutto on top. Press down gently.

ROLL up pork jelly-roll style, starting with a long side. Tie the roast at 1-1/2-inch to 2-inch intervals with kitchen string. Season lightly with salt, and remaining garlic/Dijon mixture. Place on a rack in a shallow baking pan.

BAKE, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees. Place under the broiler to brown the top for 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving platter or cutting board. Let stand 10 minutes before removing string and slicing. Slice in 8 pieces.

Source: skinnytaste.com

Beef Wellington Tarts

Serves 2

8   ounces beef tenderloin

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

4   teaspoons olive oil

All-purpose flour, for dusting

1   sheet (11-inch square) thawed frozen puff pastry

1   tablespoon unsalted butter

8   ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

2   teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

1   garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

2    ounces foie gras mousse (about 1/4 cup)

HEAT oven to 400 degrees. Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, and cook until completely browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer skillet to oven, and cook to desired doneness (130 degrees for medium-rare, 8 to 9 minutes). Transfer beef to a plate, and let rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

CUT two 5 1/2-inch squares from puff pastry resting on a lightly floured surface. Reserve remaining dough for another use. Using a paring knife, score a 1/2-inch border around each square. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

BAKE pastry for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees, and continue to bake until puffed and golden brown, about 10 minutes more.

MELT butter with remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a clean skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, thyme and garlic, and cook until mushrooms are tender and garlic has softened, about 8 minutes. Add wine, and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mixture to a small bowl.

ADD foie gras mousse to skillet, and reduce heat to low. Stir until just melted. Remove from heat.

USE the back of a spoon to flatten inside portion of each pastry square. Thinly slice beef, and arrange slices on top of pastry. Top with mushroom mixture, and drizzle with sauce. Serve immediately.

Source: www.marthastewart.com


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