Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook
Seasonal Sumptuous Valentine Menu
Shrimp Stuffed with Chevre and Herbs
Creamy Polenta Hearts with Fennel and Bell Peppers
“Dirty” Pot de Chocolat
Once again tis the season for a special menu for romance or simply showing folks how much you care. These stuffed shrimp I concocted long ago have been a call-upon favorite for two decades. Whether you want romantic indulgence, a deluxe appetizer or a easy deluxe entree you've got it here. Yum goes for that creamy polenta studded with roasted vegetables. When not using moulds for the polenta you can actually cut the cooled polenta/vegetable mixture into a heart shape with a cookie cutter or even a free-form cut out with a knife. Just serve it in a bowl if a crowd is happening. If you are looking for a simple, rich and slightly devilish finish for a Valentine meal this is the sure winner. The “dirty” is just tongue-in-cheek and it does get attention as the dessert looks like a cup of soil with topsoil (those crumbled cookies) crowning a rich French chocolate mousse classic.
Shrimp Stuffed with Chevre and Herbs
Double, triple or keep multiplying the numbers for more than an intimate meal as it’s always a huge hit.
- 12 ounces large shrimp, steamed, peeled and deveined
- 4 ounces chevre cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup snipped chives, garlic chives or fresh rosemary
- Spicy cocktail sauce
With a small sharp knife, make a slit in the outer ‘seam’ of the shrimp to create a pocket. Spread a small amount of chevre into each pocket, mounding a bit. Sprinkle the chevre cheese with the herbs. Place on a platter or individual plates and serve with cocktail sauce for dipping.
Creamy Polenta with Fennel and Bell Peppers
Polenta never tastes so good naked (that means without all of the butter, cream and cheese the restaurants normally add). This polenta is so light, so fluffy, so creamy, it could be a dessert. To serve the dish to a crowd, it can be layered and baked as a casserole or for smaller portions, build individual plates. For this dreamy dinner make individual heart-shaped portions and stir in some of the roasted fennel and peppers and then adding more on top.(basic polenta recipe from the Wall St. Journal).
For the topping
- 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
- 1 medium fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the polenta
- 4 cups water
- salt to taste
- 1 cup medium-grain yellow polenta
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup cream cheese
- Garnish: extra roasted fennel and bell peppers
- Freshly grated firm cheese
If preparing in advance, cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in the microwave, about 5 minutes on high and stir vigorously after reheating to fluff.
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Mix pancetta, fennel, bell pepper, garlic and olive oil on a sheet pan and place in hot oven to roast for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Remove from oven and keep warm while making polenta.
Heat water lightly seasoned with salt to a boil over high heat, about 5 minutes. Quickly whisk in the polenta until fully incorporated. Lower the heat to a low simmer, add the butter and allow the polenta to cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Finish by stirring in the cream cheese and salt to taste. Stir in half of the roasted pancetta vegetable mixture.
If using moulds, line with plastic wrap-enough to enclose the top. Fill each mould with the polenta vegetable mixture; smooth the top, cover with the plastic wrap. Let rest for about 45 minutes to firm. If serving immediately, use the plastic wrap to lift the polenta from the mould. Place on serving platter and top with reserved fennel mixture and shavings of cheese.
(If preparing in advance, cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in the microwave, about 5 minutes on high and stir vigorously after reheating to fluff.)
'Dirty' Pots de Crème au Chocolat
Makes 6 individual portions or many smaller portions
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
- 1/4 cup liqueur such as Frangelico
- 3 eggs
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup crumbled chocolate cookies (chocolate biscotti used here)
- Fresh mint sprigs
Bring the cream to a boil on medium-high heat. Remove from heat immediately and stir in the chocolate. Let rest for 2 minutes to melt the chocolate, then whisk until smooth. Stir in the liqueur and blend.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and salt until thick and lemon colored - about two minutes with an electric mixer. Pour the chocolate into the eggs slowly and mix well, using the electric mixer. White it is still hot, pour the mousse into dessert cups. When beginning to firm, sprinkle each portion with equal amounts of crumbled cookies. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
Serve cold and garnished with a sprig of mint inserted.