Valentine's Past and Present
Honestly, I can take or leave Valentine's Day. But even when I decide to leave it, I always want to do a little something special to commemorate it, and the "little something" always involves food. Years ago, I made heart-shaped sugar cookies (using a cookie cutter made from a Coke can) dusted with red sprinkles, and home-made valentine's cards, and pushed the bags of sweet treats through my friends' letter slots (it was a very cold February day, I remember). I've packed up boxes of lemon tea bread to send to my New Jersey grandparents (I omit the poppy seeds), and have sent my father, the birthday baby, wine and low-fat desserts to celebrate his day.
This year, I wanted to make something soft and simple, easy yet somehow glamorous -- and delicious. Really, I mean delicious. What came to mind first was: polenta.
The New York Times had a very pretty piece last week mooning on about the wonders of polenta and fried eggs, which may have inspired the craving. Then I took my dad to Rose Pistola for an early birthday dinner (he had a seafood pasta, I had a bleu cheese salad, we both drank red wine) and ordered a side to go along with my meal. It was a drippy -- though warmish -- day, and the polenta's smooth slide was the perfect winter antidote.
However, when it came time to make my own version,I balked at frying up eggs and grating a pound of cheese as the Times' recipe suggests. I've made polenta with no cheese at all (Sacrilege! Though it doesn't taste too bad, just a bit more dry) and I am not really an egg person unless I'm in the exact right mood at breakfast (exceptions are made for green garlic souffles, of course). I do love cheese, but too much of it can leave me stomach-achey and sniffly. So, how to adapt?
I still wanted a lustrous pile of what is, really, just some dressed up cornmeal, but I wanted to make it a bit more heart-healthy. Using the basic Times' recipe, I lowered the amount of butter and cheese and used vegetable broth to give it more heft. Yum. It was still creamy, glossy, and delicious. I roasted a bunch of asparagus to be placed gently alongside, and made a delectable and simple salad with roasted beets and spinach. I finished the meal with a luscious -- and also simple -- chocolate tarte from Gourmet's February issue. I could not let the holiday slip past without chocolate, of course.
Sometimes the simplest things are the most wonderful.
[Valentine cake, February 2006]