Calgary·Recipe

Valentine recipes that you can make for or with your special someone

Cooking something that requires a bit more preparation time can be a bonding and even romantic experience — plus you can avoid the busy restaurant scene on Valentine's Day.

Impress each other with homemade lasagna and hand-rolled breadsticks

Make that special someone in your life some homemade comfort food. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Cooking together can be a romantic Valentine's Day activity with someone you love and a great reason to stay in on one of the busiest restaurant days of the year.

Romantic or not, the kitchen is a great place to spend time with people in your life — and the perfect place to let kids get their hands messy and get involved in Valentine's Day festivities.

Food is personal, nostalgic, comforting, celebratory,  and cooking for each other is one of the oldest ways of expressing affection. After all, we all gotta eat.

There are some great cooking schools in Calgary, including The Cookbook Co. Cooks on 11th Avenue S.W., and Cuisine et Chateau in Kensington. Both have been known to offer couples classes, where you can go spend some time being instructed by a professional chef, with a glass of wine, and not worry about cleanup afterward.

If you're considering cooking at home and making dinner a hands-on collaborative project, it's fun to try something new, besides your usual Tuesday night fare.

The process is the whole point. Unlike most weeknights, where it might come down to a quick assembly of dinner, something hands-on and more involved, like bread, dumplings or fresh pasta, makes it special.

Fresh pasta is one of my favourite things to make, both with kids and grown-ups. It's not something people regularly make, yet all you need is a cup of flour, a big pinch of salt and two eggs.

If you don't have a pasta rolling machine, that's fine. You can use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to about the thickness of a playing card, and use it in a simple lasagna — no pre-cooking required.

And because you're making a project out of dinner, a batch of soft breadsticks is also a good idea, and will keep more hands busy.

Both are inexpensive enough for multiple people, even kids, to make their own batch. Plus, with Valentine's Day coinciding with the annual teachers' convention, you may be looking for extra projects to do at home anyway.

This lasagna recipe keeps it simple and accomplishes something delicious. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Lasagna

I came across food writer Julia Turshen's simple lasagna — what she calls "a nice lasagna," and was instantly drawn to its simplicity. There's no meat, no layers of roasted vegetables or ricotta — just a rosé tomato sauce, fresh basil and plenty of cheese.

Best of all, it utilizes fresh pasta sheets, which you can mix up and roll with a rolling pin or bottle of wine — no pasta machine required.

Layer it directly in the pan with the sauce and cheese, there's no need to boil it first.

Julia's pasta formula is 2¼ cups flour with 3 eggs and water as needed, blitzed in the food processor. But I got into the habit of using a ratio of 1 cup flour to 2 eggs and just stirring it together by hand — I made some adaptations based on the way I cook.

Pasta ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp salt

4 large eggs

olive oil

For cooking:

2 garlic cloves crushed

2 cans whole or plum tomatoes 

salt

½-1 cup crème fraîche or full-fat sour cream

a big handful of fresh basil

grated mozzarella

grated Parmesan

Preparation:

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and crack in the eggs.

Stir up the eggs with a fork, and start incorporating the flour until it's all mixed in, and you have a soft, sticky dough.

Knead for a few minutes, incorporating more flour on the counter if it's too sticky to handle, until it's fairly soft.

Wrap in plastic and let rest at room temp or refrigerate for at least half an hour.

When you're ready to make the lasagna, heat a generous drizzle of oil in a medium saucepan and add the garlic. Cook for a minute, until it starts to sizzle and turn pale golden.

Add the tomatoes, squeezing them with your hands into the pot to break them up, and add their juices, too, and a big pinch of salt.

Simmer for about 20 minutes, until it reduces. I find when I use some crushed or pureed tomatoes, it doesn't take as long. Stir in the crème fraîche or sour cream.

As it simmers, preheat the oven to 400 F (204 C).

The layering process is key to getting the stacked texture in your lasagna. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Divide the pasta dough into six pieces and roll each into a rounded square or rectangle about the thickness of a playing card.

To assemble the lasagna, ladle some sauce into a 9x13-inch pan and spread it over the bottom. Make a layer of two pasta sheets, however they fit to make a single layer, and top with another ladle or two of sauce, and scatter with torn basil, mozzarella and Parmesan.

An idea of what your ooey, gooey creation should look like. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Repeat with more pasta, sauce, basil, cheeses, and top with another layer of pasta, sauce and cheese.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until bubbly and golden. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves: 8-10.

These thyme and garlicky breadsticks are made from the same dough as what's used in pizza and focaccia. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Soft Breadsticks

This is the same dough I'd use to make pizza, or even focaccia — it's very simple, and doesn't need much rise, especially if you use instant yeast, but it will be just fine if you leave it to sit even longer.

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water

2 tsp dry instant yeast

2½ to 2¾ cups all-purpose flour

1-2 tbsp canola or olive oil, plus extra for brushing

1 tsp salt

1 garlic clove, finely crushed, optional

½ tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh

flaky salt and/or Parmesan cheese, for grating

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400 F (204 C). Place the warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle with the yeast. Let stand for a few minutes, until it starts to get foamy.

Add 2½ cups of the flour along with 1-2 tbsp oil and the salt, and stir until the dough comes together. Continue to stir, adding more flour as needed, until the dough comes together but is still tacky.

Knead by hand or with the dough hook on your stand mixer until it's smooth and elastic. Leave it in the bowl, covered with a tea towel, for 20 minutes or so.

Divide the dough into an even number of pieces about the size of a golf ball. Roll each into a long, thin rope and twist two together, placing on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

When they're all shaped, pour a couple tablespoons of oil into a small ramekin and stir in the garlic and thyme, along with a pinch of salt.

Brush all over the breadsticks and bake for about 15 minutes, or until deep golden. If you like, finely grate Parmesan cheese over them while they're still hot.

Makes: 8-12 breadsticks.


Listen to food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal every week on the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesdays at 8:20 a.m.

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.

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