When I think about Valentine’s Day and love, everything begins with Noa.
I see myself in her way to deal with love and family. When we sit together drinking a tea on a Sunday afternoon or while we watch a movie, she would curl up on her pillow in the corner and she would look at us. She has a gaze full of love and astonishment. I believe that, despite four years have passed now, the few months that she spent in the kennel are still inside her, almost overwhelmed now by happy memories with us. She embraces us with her loving gaze, she surrounds us all with the attention and care of a Maremma dog that protects her family: my parents, my grandmother, Tommaso and me, my sister Claudia and Gianluca. We are her herd, and when we are all together in a room she can finally relax, enjoying that moment in astonishment. Deep down, I do the same.
Noa taught me a lot about love. She arrived into our family four years ago today, and she changed our lives. It’s a phrase we often hear pronounced by those who count at least one dog, or a cat, within their family. I could make a long list of clichés that come to mind when I think about the role she has had and that she is still having in our family dynamics. But she taught me things that go beyond this.
She taught me the quiet love, a gaze that embraces your loved ones and surrounds them with gratitude. She taught me to be indulgent with myself, the ability to let go and the beauty of running in the garden with your tongue sticking out at the day of the day, the gestures that mean stay, trust and abandonment.
Then he came.
In that first meeting with Tommaso, she disclosed a jealousy that I had never seen, she probably understood well before us what would happen only in a few months, reading in a newborn friendship something more, which was growing silent.
I would not celebrated Valentine’s Day, I always considered it a commercial holiday, the special day of florists and chocolate makers. Maybe it was a form of defense, I was one of the few girls to leave school without showing off a gift or hiding it awkwardly in her pocket. I would not give importance to it, partly because I wanted to avoid falling into a useless self-pity, partly because I have always been allergic to heart shaped pillows. Probably I would not have disdained a packet of chocolate truffles, though.
Four years ago, on the evening of February 13, my dad and I brought home a shy six month old Noa, and the next day I woke up to discover a new meaning of Valentine’s Day. It passed from being just another day without someone to celebrate with to the first day when I could read in her eyes with long white eyelashes an amazed love and an endless gratitude. Love calls love, and the following year Tommaso and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together, equally amazed and grateful.
There are small gifts, books that have been on your wishing list for months or Lego boxes that often appear during birthdays and days to celebrate, but mostly I cook. I cooked before, for me, to cuddle me and take care of me, and I cook now for us, to simply celebrate a day like the others when maybe you want to find still another reason to indulge yourself. In our daily life made of scarce social occasions and many dinners at home on the couch, there’s always room for a slice of cake, possibly a chocolate cake, as it turns immediately that indulgence into a special moment, even though you are wearing slippers instead of high heel shoes.
Five chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day
So yesterday I browsed through my old recipes to choose five of my favourite chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day. There would be more, but these were calling my name. I dusted them off, took a few new photos and we also filmed a new video recipe. Officially they are for Valentine’s Day, but we all perfectly know that chocolate does not need an excuse, don’t we?
1. My olive oil and tangerine chocolate cake
It is a chocolate cake made with extra virgin olive oil, a few cubes of dark chocolate, almond flour to give body and flavour and wholemeal spelt flour to reduce the use of white flour, a good handful of raw cane sugar and the juice and rind of a tangerine to give a fresh citrus hint to each slice.
I like it rustic, with a crinkled and irregular surface shyly covered with a dusting of icing sugar. When there’s an occasion to celebrate, though, I carefully slice its moist crumb and fill it with a chocolate ganache, then I smear the same ganache on top, intentionally imperfect. The second and fun step is to decorate it with chocolate chips, almonds and rose petals. It has the same old rustic character, but it proudly shows the effervescence of when you’re just out of the hair salon with a cut that suits you.
Serve the chocolate cake with a cup of English Breakfast tea and a slice of tangerine or a Bancha green tea, which suits perfectly the moist olive oil chocolate cake, now the chocolate cake of my family. You can find the recipe here and here.
We so liked this recipe that a few years ago we also made a video to show you how simple it is.
2. Red wine poached pears with chocolate sauce
In my opinion cooked fruit is undervalued. A dessert based on fruit is sensual, refined and unexpected. It can give a different tone to the usual dinner, it lends itself to so many combinations and, above all, it si not as heavy as a thick slice of buttery cake, although it leaves you with the same satisfaction. Poires Belle Hélène is a classic French dessert created in 1864 by Auguste Escoffier, so called in honour of the operetta La Belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach.
In Escoffier’s recipe pears are gently poached in a sugar syrup and served draped with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. In my version, I replaced Escoffier’s sugar syrup with a spiced syrup made of red wine, water, sugar, star anise, cardamom and cinnamon. You can find the recipe here.
3. Artusi’s chocolate pudding
If you find a hundred year old recipe by Pellegrino Artusi which gives you the chance to have a soft, wobbling and refreshing chocolate dessert you don’t want to lose the chance to try it, especially because it is not too sweet as you drizzle it with a thick coating of dark caramel. So grab your spoon and follow me to make the perfect chocolate pudding. Before serving it, brew a mint greet tea which goes incredibly well with a chocolate dessert. It will refresh and clean your mouth, marrying the chocolate notes to perfection. You can find the recipe here.
4. Pear and chocolate olive oil cake
It is an autumnal cake in colours and ingredients. Chocolate is slowly making its way back into the kitchen, hand in hand with the pears. The olive oil gives the cake a humble and homely flavour. It is an elegant cake, though: look at the pears, sliced and arranged on top of the cake, baked in the oven and caramelized under a sprinkling of brown sugar and some knobs of butter. You can find the recipe here, along with random thoughts on creativity and inspiration.
My problem with tiramisu is that I can not refrain myself from seeing the bottom of the bowl, emptying it spoon by spoon. I usually serve tiramisu in tiny cups and ramekins, instead of the classic rectangular pyrex dish, as I know myself. I have this quaint tendency to love even edges, so I would eat my way through the whole tiramisu aiming to level the edges and I would risk to get to the end without even realizing it. My sense of guilt does not last long, though, won by the unbridled passion I have for tiramisu. I make it often during cooking classes, I make it for special occasions and family gatherings, I make it when the only thing to celebrate is the pleasure of sharing some time together, I spoon it into small serving cups and into large trays, I choose coffee, early grey tea or a hint of nocino. Here you can find a classic tiramisu, here my favourite tea version, with six steps to a memorable dessert.
Yesterday, feeling like to celebrate, we also made a video recipe to indulge into a soothing tiramisu.
Link Love – What I am reading and cooking in these days
What have you been reading or cooking recently? Share links in the comments!
- I made for the the umpteenth time Tessa Kiros’ tapenade from her last book, Provence to Pondicherry, and now I can safely say that I would happily survive on fresh bread, olives, anchovies and capers. I also tried the version with green olives and basil, and this will be my appetizer from here to autumn.
- I discovered a new blog that was completely my cup of tea, A bookish baker, and I loved her post, Five Ways Writers Can Use Instagram.
- Nicole Gulotta is always a good read, especially her last post, When you must kill your darlings, with good advice on how to edit your texts.
- We had lunch at Irene in Florence, the Hotel Savoy bistrot in Piazza della Repubblica. The extraordinary Italian chef Fulvio Pierangelini designed the menu, and this would be enough to label the experience as memorable. Then I had as an appetizer a red shrimp tartare with whipped herby ricotta and I was ready to swear eternal love. Here my Instagram post, while here you can read Georgette’s post on Irene, the sexiest new bistrot in Florence.
- The picture below is part of a photo shoot that we had with our friend, Andrea, a talented food and portrait photographer. We wanted to celebrate an exciting moment in our working and private life, and some nice smiling pictures were definitely needed.