As I look around the web at all the Valentine's Day offerings, a small part of me feels a little sad, and a little jealous, because this year I won't be celebrating. Just like I didn't celebrate last year and I won't be celebrating next year. In fact the last Valentine's Day I celebrated was in 1988. My darling husband and I were in the very early throes of our romance. That February night, under the weight of boyfriend expectations, he booked a table for two at a quaint restaurant with a good reputation. But it was a soggy Valentine's Day that year. By the end of the afternoon, the rain was bucketing down so heavily that Valentine's Day cards had to be written in waterproof ink. More religious minds were probably thinking about arks. No matter. My love came to collect me and off we drove to dinner.
As you all know, the heavier the rain, the less likely a parking spot. And so it was for us. But eventually we arrived at the restaurant, now both hungry and wet. A waiter ushered us to our table, just beside the door, and with a flourish, gave me a half-dead rose. Apparently this was part of the Valentine's Day "gift for the Ladies". But before I could enjoy the moment, I was hit with a new downpour, and so it continued for the rest of the night. We were seated so close to the door and the rain was so heavy that anyone entering or leaving the restaurant gave us a good spray. Add to that a very ordinary meal and a tragic wandering troubador, and you can understand why my then-boyfriend announced on leaving "We will never do that again." To him, Valentine's Day was a con, and that was the end of it for me. But every year, you can find me looking at the cards and the chocolates a little wistfully, wondering if that first night had gone well, what might be different now.....
Mele Cotte has sent out her annual call for recipes for Cucina D'Amore, her "kitchen of love" for Valentines Day. So here is a recipe that would be wonderful for romantic souls. Strawberries poached in strawberry sauce - just the thing to feed each other at the end of a candlelit supper. The sauce tastes so intensely of strawberry, that I finally understand the flavour that bottled strawberry sauces are trying to achieve. But instead of tasting synthetic like those bottled sauces, this tastes sweet and intense, with the slightly sour note of the berries stopping it from being too cloying. I made these strawberries originally to be served with a chocolate meringue cake, but they are so delicious they stand up on their own. In fact, the sauce was so lovely, that I kept the leftovers after we finished the strawberries and tipped raspberries into it, and finished it up that way. I will definitely be making this again - you just need to make sure that strawberries are in season, or your Valentine budget will be blown.
Strawberries Poached in Their Own Juice
1 kg strawberries
Zested rind and juice of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon
75g caster sugar
Chop 750g strawberries into smallish chunks and place in a large heatproof bowl with the lemon and orange zest and juice. Cover tightly with several layers of plastic wrap - I used three. Place over a large saucepan of simmering water, and leave them to cook for about an hour. At this stage the strawberries should look very pulpy, and they should have lost a lot of their juices. Tip into a sieve and strain, without pressing down on the pulp (you don't want the tiny strawberry seeds).
Tip juices into a deep frying pan, add the caster sugar and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Slice the strawberries lengthwise in half or thirds depending on how big they are. Add to the juices in the pan, and bring up to a simmer. Remove from heat and cool completely. Store in the fridge. Serve with cream, ice cream, cake or love.