Forget the Valentine’s Day restaurant rush and treat your partner to an intimate meal at home — here four of Ireland’s top chefs share delicious recipes that are certain to get you and your loved one in the mood
Everything about Italy is romantic – the culture, the food, the scenery and the people all live up to our expectations.
The ingredients for a perfectly executed night of romance and seduction is a lovely glass of Prosecco to start, with some Sicilian green olives, maybe a grissini or two followed by my dish of scallops with prosciutto and balsamic glaze.
The fresh flavour of the sea from the scallops, intertwined with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the sharp hit of the balsamic are sure to set the taste buds tingling.
Then crack open the Barolo to have a glass with finger licking fig and pistachio lamb cutlets. For dessert, my hot tip is to have a strawberry tiramisu to share. Then you find out very quickly who really loves you.
If you are allowed eat over half of the tiramisu, then it's the real deal – true love. For only someone who loved you would make such a sacrifice!
'Eat Like An Italian', published by Gill & Macmillan, €22.99, available from all major book shops and from amazon.co.uk
Catherine's scallops with prosciutto and Balsamic glaze
Every time you make this dish, you will hear wows around the table, followed by silence. And that, my fellow cooks, is the sound of diners enjoying the dish.
You will need
100ml balsamic vinegar
½ tbsp brown sugar
4 thin slices prosciutto
8 large scallops
8 small rosemary sprigs
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over a moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture has reduced by one-third. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, slice each piece of the prosciutto in half lengthwise and wrap it around the scallops, securing each of them with a sprig of rosemary. Now brush with the olive oil and season.
Cook the scallops in a griddle pan over a medium heat, turning once, until they are firm to the touch and opaque in the centre. Transfer to a serving plate and drizzle with the balsamic glaze.
Keeping it local
Use dry-cured Gubbeen Bacon to wrap around Kilmore Quay Scallops, or you may prefer to use prawns.
For Valentine's day, you could buy flowers or make a table reservation, but a meal at home beats anything so obvious. It takes some thought, some planning and provides a chance to show some caring.
Cooking at home means that you can really push the boat out with the ingredients and the wine, so that the evening gets off to a good start.
Begin by going to a butcher and telling him your plan so that he disappears to his cold store and returns with two prize steaks.
The red wine jus is a classic meat sauce. I often serve steak with it and salsa verde, which cuts through the richness of the meat. The salsa can be spooned over the steak or over a selelection of vegetables.
I am proposing a red wine jus, but if that is too cheffy, you could do a gravy. You don't want too much last-minute cooking, so prepare a potato gratin, which can be baked in advance and then reheated in the oven.
Cooking a steak the way your partner loves it shows caring. And the rest, I am afraid, I must leave up to you.
I love to finish with a decadent dessert. Crème brulee and a red fruit compote would provide a lovely finishing touch – a smooth silky custard beneath a layer of crackly caramel.
And my personal weakness is a glass of dessert wine to accompany it. Perfect for the evening that's in it.
From 'Lynda's Table', published by DCS, €24.99, available from the Dublin Cookery School and leading bookshops
Lynda's fillet steak with red wine jus
You will need
For the steaks
2 x 170g thick fillet steaks, ideally centre cut and at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sunflower oil to pan-fry the steaks
For the red wine jus
2 shallots, finely chopped
50g shitake mushrooms, or button mushrooms, finely chopped
300ml Cabernet Sauvignon red wine, or a Cabernet and Merlot blend
3 black peppercorns, crushed lightly
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
300ml rich golden veal, beef or reduced chicken stock
Preheat your oven to 200°C, 180°C fan, gas mark 6. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and saute the shallots and mushrooms until light gold.
Deglaze the saucepan with the red wine, then add the peppercorns, thyme and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil and reduce the wine by about three-quarters, then add the stock.
Simmer and reduce again until the stock has reduced by about half. Judge the consistency by eye. (If you feel it has reduced too much, add a dash of water.) Taste and season.
If the sauce is a little bitter, add a pinch or two of sugar. The acidity can vary depending on the wine that has been used. Pass the sauce through a strainer, discarding the solids. The sauce can be made up to this point in advance.
Remove the steaks from the fridge well ahead of time to allow them to come to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the pan with a dash of sunflower oil until very hot. Place the steaks in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd them. You may need to sear them in two batches. Cook over a high heat for about 2 minutes on each side, until a nice golden crust has formed, then transfer them to a baking tray.
Place the baking tray in the oven and cook the steaks for a few more minutes – the exact length of time required to cook the steaks will depend on their thickness. Allow them to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. If you wish to hold them for longer, keep them covered with tinfoil to retain the heat. If there are any residual juices from the meat after resting, just add these to the sauce.
Serve the steaks with a spoonful or two of red wine jus and some salsa verde on the side.
You will need
Butter, for greasing the dish
900g potatoes, such as Kerr Pinks or Roosters, peeled
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
375ml boiling milk
Preheat your oven to 200°C, 180°C fan, gas mark 6. Now generously butter a gratin dish measuring approximately 23cm x 20cm and 5cm deep.
Cut your potatoes into slices measuring appoximately 3mm thick. Afterwards, layer the potatoes with the chopped garlic, slightly overlapping the slices.
Season each of the layers with some salt, but be careful not to scatter any of the garlic over the final layer.
Pour the boiling milk and the cream over the top of your potatoes. The liquid should just barely come up to the level of the potatoes. If this is not the case, add a bit more milk and cream. Now cook in the oven for 50 minutes, until the top is golden and most of the liquid has evaporated.
The gratin may be prepared in advance and then reheated at a later date.
You will need
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsps flat-leaf parsley
Bunch of basil leaves
Small bunch of chives, chopped
2-4 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
1 tbsp capers, drained (ideally, fresh capers which have been marinated in olive oil)
1 tbsp lemon juice
5 fl oz (150ml) olive oil
Salt and pepper
Put the garlic, parsley, basil, chives, anchovies and capers in the bowl of the food processor with the lemon juice and a few tablespoons of the oil.
Whizz for a minute or two, sometimes scraping down what is thrown up against the sides of the bowl. With the machine running, add the rest of the oil in a thin stream. Taste for seasoning.
If you are making the sauce in advance, pack it into a ramekin or small bowl, wipe down the sides and cover with a thin film of olive oil. Cover and place in the fridge until ready to use. It can be safely stored for up to a week.
Salsa verde is beautiful over lamb, chicken, white fish or over griddled vegetables.
Food has to be seductive, appeal to our senses and above all be enjoyed with that special person in your life. As an alternative to the usual mountain of chocolate that normally surrounds us on Valentine's Day, my recipe for peach and marshmallow skewers with a lovely sweet and sticky butterscotch sauce is definitely a treat to be shared.
Just imagine each mouthful of juicy peach and sweet marshmallow – what's not to love about that?
Do I consider myself an old romantic? Less of the old, though I'm not known for my grand gestures at Valentine's as both Catherine and I have a very busy evening at Dunbrody. However, I do make sure we get to share some quality time later that evening, with a nice meal and a bottle of chilled bubbles.
One of my other favourite Valentine's recipes is the 'Dunbrody Kiss' chocolate dessert.
It is pure indulgence, for adults only, and to be shared behind closed doors!
Kevin Dundon's 'Modern Irish Food', published by Mitchell Beazley, €28.99, available from leading bookshops and dunbrodyhouse.com
Kevin's Peach and Marshmallow Skewers with Butterscotch Sauce
Making marshmallows is fun, but do be careful with the sugar and glucose syrup mixture when it's hot. There are many possible variations, but I suggest you start with this basic recipe and take it from there. Serves 4
You will need
9 leaves or sheets of gelatine, soaked in water for about 10 minutes, then squeezed dry
450g caster sugar
1 tbsp liquid glucose
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod or bean
2 egg whites
1 tsp sunflower oil
Cornflour, for dusting
Icing sugar, for dusting
3 peaches, peeled, stoned (pitted) and thickly sliced
For the butterscotch sauce:
4 tbsp brown sugar
250ml pouring cream
Place the sugar, glucose and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil and continue to cook until the temperature reaches 127°C (260°F) on a sugar thermometer. Add the vanilla seeds, then stir in the gelatine until dissolved.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Slowly whisk in the hot sugar mixture until the whites thicken and become very glossy. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form.
Take a roasting pan about 40 x 25cm (16 x 10 inches) and 5cm (2 inches) deep and very lightly brush it with sunflower oil, then dust with cornflour and icing sugar. Pour in the marshmallow mixture and spread it evenly with a palette knife or spatula. Leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Once the marshmallow is set, turn it out onto a work surface dusted with cornflour and icing sugar and, with a hot knife, cut it into 2cm cubes.
To serve, thread the peach pieces and marshmallow cubes onto skewers and caramelize them on a barbecue.
Alternatively, lay the skewers on a greased baking sheet and place under a preheated grill for 2 minutes, then turn over the skewers and grill for another 2 minutes or until caramelized.
To make the sauce
Melt the butter in a saucepan, add in the brown sugar and bring to the boil. Sugar has a very high boiling point, so take care not to burn yourself. Pour in the cream, whisking continuously, and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes. Drizzle over the skewers and serve.
I wouldn't exactly consider myself a Casanova when it comes to Valentine's Day, and this can be backed up by the number of times that I've forgotten it. However, I would consider myself to be a step above petrol station flowers and, despite my romantic shortfalls, I do like to think that I deliver a fine Valentine's dinner followed by the all-important breakfast in bed the following morning.
While oysters and champagne might sound very romantic, I like to stick to the simple favourites, which always go down really well.
I'd say forget the starter and channel 'Mad Men's' Don Draper by shaking up a killer cocktail before a simply cooked main course such as sweet and sticky duck legs served with roast parsnips and salad with a French dressing.
In my view, getting the dessert right is the key to any romantic dinner for two, and you can't go wrong with chocolate – mini molten chocolate cakes with hot oozing interiors served with ice cream are always a winner.
Breakfast in bed is the icing on the cake, and my go-to dish is eggs Benedict – soft poached egg slathered in a tangy creamy hollandaise sauce served with bacon on an English muffin.
With a menu like that, no one should be worried about a lack of roses or a flute-playing cherub sitting strumming in the corner.
'Homecooked' by Donal Skehan, published by Harper Collins, €27.50, available from leading bookshops and from donalskehan.com.
Donal's Eggs Benedict
Runny poached eggs with salty bacon on top of a soft-toasted English muffin, all coated in a Hollandaise sauce – true perfection.
You will need
For the filling
6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
4 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 English muffin, split and toasted
Butter, for the muffins
Small handful of chives, snipped
For the hollandaise sauce
2 large egg yolks
150g butter, cold and cut into cubes
Juice of ½ a lemon
Cook bacon under hot grill until it is crisp. To make the hollandaise sauce, place the egg yolk in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.
Whisk the yolks and slowly add the cubed butter, bit by bit. After each bit melts, whisk continuously until it is combined and the sauce has thickened. Add the lemon juice and stir through. Turn off the heat, but keep the sauce warm over the pan of water.
To cook the eggs, bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the salt and vinegar.
Swirl the water with a tablespoon and then gently crack an egg into the centre. Cook the egg at a very gentle simmer for 3-4 minutes for the yolk to still be runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and place them in iced water to stop them cooking any further. Repeat with the remaining egg. Just before serving, reheat the eggs in warm water for 1 minute.
Butter the muffins and assemble the Eggs Benedict by placing a few slices of bacon and an egg on each half and then top with the warm hollandaise sauce. Sprinkle over the chives and serve straight away.