FARGO — Love is in the air, and this week we've crafted a three-course Valentine's menu featuring ingredients believed to possess aphrodisiac qualities: Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup to start the meal, Linguine ai Frutti di Mare (Seafood Linguine) as the main course and Flourless Chocolate Torte for a flourishing finish. Each recipe has been previously shared here in our column, and we are delighted to present them in a new way for this occasion.
The word "aphrodisiac" stems from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Aphrodisiac foods are believed to have properties that naturally work to stimulate our senses and create feelings closely linked to love, like comfort, attraction, desire and even excitement.
Our Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup is lush, creamy and wonderfully flavored. Asparagus is an ideal ingredient to kick off a romantic evening, as it is filled with vitamin E which naturally stimulates hormone levels in both men and women.
The addition of bleu cheese takes this soup to the next level by stimulating our senses with its fragrant aromatics and high content of phenylethylamine (PEA), which can boost serotonin levels and enhance your mood, focus and energy. PEA is also called the "love molecule" because it is the same compound released by the brain when we fall in love, and it factors prominently throughout this menu.
Linguine ai Frutti di Mare, the main course on our menu, is filled with a bounty of shellfish that includes mussels, shrimp and scallops. With its gorgeous color and evocative shapes, this dish is almost guaranteed to raise the level of arousal and delight to romantic proportions, even before you've had your first bite.
But, aside from its physical attributes, this assortment of shellfish also boasts a bevy of nutrients, like even more PEA, as well as specific amino acids that can further elevate your mood and hormone levels. When you throw a little linguine into this mix, you may as well just set your forks down, grab a noodle between the two of you (a la "Lady and the Tramp") and finish the dish with a kiss.
Chocolate is always my favorite way to end a romantic meal, and this Flourless Chocolate Torte is luxurious, decadent and delicious. Chocolate has two main chemicals believed to create arousal: PEA, which we've already established helps boost hormone levels, and L-tryptophan, which can arouse the release of endorphins and simultaneously produce feelings of elation and relaxation.
To be honest, I don't know if any of these foods truly possess aphrodisiac powers, but I do know that this Valentine's menu is filled with dishes that are beautiful, fragrant and delicious. And that's enough to get me excited.
Wine pairing recommendation: Prosecco. With its lively bubbles and pleasing, fresh taste, prosecco is the perfect wine to enjoy throughout this meal.
Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup
Serves: 4 to 6
1 lb. or bunch of asparagus
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (half a stick)
1 qt. chicken stock
1 tablespoon roux
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup crumbled bleu cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut one inch off the bottoms of the asparagus to remove the woody stalk, then cut each stalk into one-inch pieces, reserving the tips for garnish.
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat, then sauté the onion, garlic and asparagus for five minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 45 minutes on low heat.
Whisk in the roux to thicken the mixture, adding more if needed. Add cream and bleu cheese, then puree the mixture using an immersion blender until well blended (you may also use a blender or food processor). Taste soup and add salt and pepper as desired.
Use the bottom of a ladle to gently push the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer until all the stringy parts are removed and the texture is smooth and velvety. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with asparagus tips and crumbled bleu cheese. Soup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one week or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Sarah's Tip: To simplify the flavor, you may omit the bleu cheese as a garnish and use toasted pine nuts instead.
½ cup butter, shortening, lard or vegetable oil (the more flavorful the fat, the better the roux)
½ cup flour
(The ratio we use to make a roux is 1:1)
Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, then gradually whisk in the flour until it is completely incorporated with the butter.
Cook over medium-low heat for about 6 to 8 minutes, whisking constantly until a light straw color is achieved. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The roux will harden when refrigerated so that you can break it off in pieces.
Linguine ai Frutti di Mare (Seafood Linguine)
½ lb. linguine pasta, cooked al dente
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ lb. mussels, cleaned (all tightly shut)
4 oz. shrimp, peeled and de-veined
4 oz. scallops
½ cup white wine
¾ cup clam juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted (optional)
¼ cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoons sliced scallions
Rinse the mussels in cold water to remove any sand and grit from the shell. Discard any mussels that have already opened.
Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and add the pasta. Cook according to the direction on the package, until al dente.
In a large frying pan, sauté the garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat for one minute, being careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the mussels, shrimp, scallops, wine, clam juice, lemon juice and breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs will help to thicken the sauce, but leave them out if you prefer a more broth-like consistency.
Cover and cook over medium-high heat until all the mussels have completely opened, approximately 5 to 8 minutes. If the mussels are allowed to cook past the point of opening, the shrimp and scallops will be overcooked, so be sure to periodically lift the cover to check the mussels. Discard any mussels that have not opened.
To make a richer sauce, add the butter at the end and stir until melted. Add the tomatoes and scallions and lightly toss to combine.
Transfer the hot linguine noodles to a platter or plate, and cover the noodles with the seafood mixture. Toss again if desired. For a more dramatic presentation, lay the mussels facing inward around the perimeter of the dish. Serve immediately.
Flourless Chocolate Torte
Serves: 10 to 12
1 lb. unsalted butter (4 sticks)
1 cup coffee
1 cup sugar
1 lb. quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in pieces
Preheat oven to 300° F.
Combine butter, coffee and sugar in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Be sure to whisk and melt the butter. Turn off the heat and whisk in the chocolate until it is incorporated into the mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, aggressively whisking after each one until the batter is smooth.
Pour into a greased and parchment lined 10-inch round cake pan. Place the cake pan into a larger baking dish then fill with water halfway up the side of the cake pan. Bake for 45 - 55 minutes at 300° F. Insert a toothpick into the center to check for doneness. When it comes out clean, the cake is done.
Remove the pan from the water bath and cool for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve; the cake will fall somewhat in the middle as it cools. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Cut into pieces and serve with whipped cream and fresh berries. You can also create a vanilla sauce by melting a high-quality vanilla ice cream. This is a great complement to the cake.
Cover and refrigerate for up to one week.
• Use parchment paper to aid in removing the cake from the baking pan. To do this, place the bottom of the pan on a piece of parchment and trace it with a pencil. Cut the piece out, and place it inside the already greased pan.
• To remove the cake, place the cake pan over a warm stove element (med-low) for 30 — 60 seconds, rotating it constantly to prevent burning.
• Flip the pan over onto a cutting board and tap the bottom of the pan to remove the cake. Remove the parchment paper, then place another cutting board or serving plate on the top. Flip it over so that the cake's top is facing upward.
• When slicing the cake, dip your knife in hot water after each slice to create a clean cut.
• To make into bar-size: Use a 15x10 inch jelly roll pan or a 9x13 baking dish. Grease the bottom and line with parchment paper for easy removal.