So, love is in the air and hopefully some wonderfully cooking is going to happen in the kitchen too. For Valentine’s Day I have put together this two course dinner that is sure to leave the love of your life mightily impressed. We are starting off with a meatball past bake and finishing with a chocolate brownie with fudge sauce. Hope you enjoy and best of luck.
Meatball Pasta Bake with Spinach and Mozzarella
This is something that you can prepare in advance in the oven so all you have to do is put a quick salad together when you are ready to serve. So you have plenty of time to set the table and light and light the candles.
225g (8oz) lean minced beef
225g (8oz) minced pork
8 cream crackers, crushed into fine crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp olive oil, extra for drizzling
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
500ml (18fl oz) passata (Italian sieved tomatoes)
2 tbsp tomato puree
small handful of fresh basil leaves, extra to garnish
350g (12oz) penne pasta
knob of butter
225g (8oz) baby spinach leaves
100g (4oz) mozzarella, cut into cubes
25g (1oz) freshly grated Parmesan
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
lightly dressed mixed salad, to serve
Place the minced beef and pork in a bowl with the crushed cream crackers, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and using your hands, give everything a good mix. Using slightly wetted hands, make about 20 even-sized balls. Arrange on a flat baking sheet, drizzle over a little olive oil to lightly coat and chill for 1 hour to firm up if time allows.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and sauté the onion and celery for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden. Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more, stirring.
Add the passata and tomato puree and season to taste. Simmer gently for 8–10 minutes, until the sauce has nicely reduced and thickened. Stir in the basil leaves and remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 C (400F/gas mark 6). Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Plunge the penne into the boiling salted water and simmer for 6–8 minutes, until almost tender but not quite cooked through. Drain the penne well and return to the pan.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the meatballs for 6–8 minutes, until almost cooked through and nicely browned.
Heat the butter in a separate pan. Add one fistful of spinach at a time, adding another as one wilts down. Cook for 1 minute, then tip into a colander to drain. Season to taste.
Stir the tomato sauce into the drained penne to coat and then transfer to a 30cm x 20cm (12in x 8in) 5cm (2in) deep ovenproof baking dish. Nestle in small mounds of spinach and arrange the meatballs on top. Scatter over the mozzarella and Parmesan. Place in the oven and bake for 15–20 minutes, until bubbling.
To serve, put the pasta bake straight on the table garnished with the basil leaves. Have a separate big bowl of salad and dig in.
WARM CHOCOLATE AND PECAN BROWNIE WITH BOOZY FUDGE SAUCE
Who doesn’t like a good chocolate brownie? The pecan nuts add extra texture and bite. If the brownies have gone cold and you want to heat them up in a hurry, pour over some of the fudge sauce and flash under a hot grill until bubbling. Any leftovers can be frozen and used to make an ice cream sundae or to flavour ice cream.
Serves 8 (well, you will want leftovers!)
FOR THE BROWNIE:
400g (14oz) plain chocolate, finely chopped (at least 70% cocoa solids)
225g (8oz) butter
275g (10oz) caster sugar
100g (4oz) self-raising flour
75g (3oz) cocoa powder
100g (4oz) pecan nuts, roughly chopped
FOR THE FUDGE SAUCE:
150ml (1/4 pint) cream
25g (1oz) butter
1 tbsp caster sugar
175g (6oz) plain chocolate, finely chopped (at least 70% cocoa solids)
50ml (2fl oz) Coole Swan Dairy Cream Liqueur
crème anglaise (page 000), to serve
Malteser ice cream (page 000), to serve
spun sugar curls (page 000), to decorate
Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F/gas mark 3).
Place 100g (4oz) of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the butter and set over a pan of simmering water until melted, then stir to combine. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl until stiff and holding their shape, then whisk in the sugar until you have achieved a stiff sabayon that can hold a trail of the figure eight. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into the sabayon and lightly fold in. Add the melted chocolate mixture with the remaining finely chopped chocolate and the nuts and continue folding gently until all the ingredients are just combined. Pour the chocolate mixture into a deep-sided 30cm x 25cm (12 x 10in) baking tin lined with parchment paper. Bake for 35–40 minutes, until the top is crusty but the centre is still a little soft.
Meanwhile, make the fudge sauce. Place the cream in a pan with the butter and sugar and bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes, until thickened and toffee-like, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from catching. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until melted. Whisk into the sauce until smooth and well combined. Leave to cool completely, then transfer to a bowl and stir in the Coole Swan liqueur. Cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge until needed. It should keep happily for up to 1 week.
Remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and peel off the parchment paper. Transfer the fudge sauce to a pan and gently heat through, or pierce the clingfilm and heat in the microwave and pour into a squeezy bottle.
To serve, cut the brownies into 7cm (2 3/4in) circles using a straight-sided cutter. Arrange on warmed plates and drizzle over the hot fudge sauce followed by a little of the crème anglaise. Add quenelles of the Malteser ice cream to each plate and decorate with the spun sugar curls.
These brownies can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept in the fridge until needed. Remove from the fridge and preheat the oven to 140°C (275°F/gas mark 1) for 10–15 minutes to warm through before serving. The fudge sauce will keep for 2–3 days in the fridge – just reheat gently to serve.