Cooking A Valentine’s Day Feast: Warm Marinated Olives, Peas with Lemon, Tarragon & Shallots & Penne A la Vodka

Since my wife has been so awesome, both lately and generally, I thought I’d try and do something special for her for Valentine’s Day. Since both of our birthdays come hot on the heels of Christmas, we usually take it pretty easy for V-Day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t knock out a special dinner, you know? I didn’t take as many pictures this time around, but I can explain what I did pretty well (I hope). I started with the main course which was Penne a la Vodka at my wife’s request. I wound up using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe which turned out to be a wonderful choice. With that in mind, I dove into my cookbook shelf and eventually found a pair of recipes from the William & Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook which we received as a wedding present and I’ve only ever used once. There I found the recipes for Warm Marinated Olives (page 58) and Peas with Lemon, Tarragon & Shallots (page 156).

In an effort to get things moving along, I actually started on this dinner at 4:00PM because I didn’t want to rush anything. As with most recipes, I did a lot of the prep ahead of time and wound up working on several things at once. The first thing I did was get the olives ready because they were the simplest and didn’t need to be heated up until the very end. I got a cup of mixed olives from my grocery store’s olive bar, rinsed them off and patted them dry before putting them into a bowl. I then mixed in orange and lemon zest, some olive oil, a chopped clove of garlic and some thyme leaves. After mixing all that together, I put them in a pan on the stove and just let them sit until I needed to add heat about 10 minutes before my wife got home.

I think got to work on the pasta sauce and the peas. I’ll write about them separately, just to keep things a little less confusing. Both recipes called for two shallots, so I chopped all four up first. Half went in for the sauce and the other half got held back for the peas. For the sauce, I added the garlic and olive oil to the shallots and cooked those for five minutes before adding the vodka  (I had Smirnoff, so that’s what I used) and reducing that for a few minutes. Then the chicken stock and a can of crushed tomatoes got added and I simmered for a while. The recipe says to just simmer while the water for the pasta cooks, so that’s what I did.

Meanwhile, I also got to work on the peas, which were pretty simple. You basically cook the shallots in butter for about five minutes and then add peas (I had to go with frozen), tarragon, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Cook that for a few minutes and you’re done. The most difficult part of this meal was the timing, really. The prep for everything probably took longer than the actual cooking and I’m happy to say that everything turned out really well. I’ve had a lot of penne a la vodka in my days and aside from a place we used to frequent in college, this was the best I’ve ever had.

I tried something a little different while preparing this meal by trying to make it flow well by having one ingredient carry over into the next dish. The olives had citrus as did the peas, the peas used shallots, as did the sauce. I know shallots are a pretty common dish in restaurant cooking (or so I’ve read in Anthony Bourdain books), but it was still something I thought of while putting things together. What did you guys make for Valentine’s Day?

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