For me, a Valentine's dinner requires something simple – yet it should have a decadent edge, too. So chill some champagne or prosecco, and with that I like the idea of pâté simply served with toast and perhaps a little butter to go alongside.
I think chocolate truffles are perfect to finish with – well-made, they're intensely rich and one or two is all you need. Tomorrow night should be stress-free, so if you can, make the pâté and the truffles the day before or at least in good time, allowing you to do nothing more than pour out the fizz and grill some bread.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
500g/1lb chicken livers
200ml/7fl oz milk
200g/7oz unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
A small bunch of thyme, leaves only
2 fresh bay leaves
100ml/3 fl oz Cognac
A generous grinding of black pepper
It is important to use the freshest chicken livers. Look for those pale in colour, as their flavour is mellower and sweeter.
Soak the chicken livers in milk for two hours, then discard the milk.
Add four tablespoons of butter to a pan and place over a medium heat. Once the butter has melted and just begun to foam, add the onion and cook until soft and transparent – about 5 minutes. Now add the garlic, thyme and bay, and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the chicken livers and cook for 2-3 minutes: the livers should be brown on the inside and still pink in the middle. Add the Cognac, turn up the heat a little and cook until just slightly reduced. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaves. Allow to cool slightly then place in a food processor. Adding the rest of the butter in small pieces, purée until smooth.
Line an eight-inch terrine mould with clingfilm and spoon in the pâté. Allow to cool completely before covering and placing in the fridge to chill and firm – a minimum of 6 hours. Serve with toast, and a few cornichons if you like.
Rich, slightly decadent and certainly romantic, these chocolates are less difficult to make than you would imagine – they take little time to prepare and last well in the fridge for 2-3 days.
What is important is to use the best possible chocolate – dark and bitter with at least 60 per cent cocoa. The one I use most often is Valrhona.
Makes 12 truffles
150ml/5fl oz double cream
40g/1 oz unsalted butter
40g/1 oz caster sugar
150g/5oz dark chocolate
3 tbsp Cognac or brandy
2 generous tbsp dark cocoa powder
Place the cream, butter and sugar in a small saucepan over a gentle heat and bring to a simmer, then immediately remove from the heat and set aside. Break up the chocolate into rough-sized squares and place in a food processor. Pulse until the chocolate becomes very fine – almost like coarse sand. Pour the warm cream into the funnel at the top of the processor and pulse once or twice more, just enough so the mixture is homogenised. Pour into a bowl and stir in the Cognac. Spoon into a bowl and chill in the fridge overnight (or for a good few hours).
Remove the firm mixture from the fridge. Using a warmed spoon, dip into the mixture and form little oval-shaped balls. Sift the cocoa powder on to a flat board and gently roll the truffles to coat them generously all over. Return to the fridge for 15 minutes before eating.
So many things can be added to prosecco to make beautiful aperitifs, most famously fresh peaches for a Bellini. You'll struggle to find decent peaches at this time of year, so try adding crystallised rose petals with a little rose syrup as a sweetener. The result is pretty and romantic. (Rose syrup is easy to find in most Middle Eastern shops.)
3 crystallised rose petals
300ml/10fl oz rose syrup
1 bottle of prosecco (enough for 5 champagne flutes)
Chill the prosecco for about 2 hours in the fridge, and the glasses for about 20 minutes in the freezer.
To serve, break the rose petals into little shards and place in the bottom of the glass, pour the rose syrup a third of the way up the glass and gently and slowly pour over the prosecco. You may need to stir it just a little with a small teaspoon. Serve immediately.