A Valentine’s Day Menu from Linda

By Linda Rittlemann

Looking to warm things up on those cold February nights? Dinner for two with a nice bottle of pinot noir, perhaps?

Here’s an elegant, easy menu you can do on a weeknight for Valentine’s Day with just a little advance planning. Why not eat in? Goodness knows, it will probably be less hassle and more than eating out on one of the busiest restaurant nights of the year.

So—stay home. Put on some great music, and cook together!

RACK OF LAMB WITH CARAMELIZED SHALLOT AND HERB CRUST

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less (adapted from Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS

Crust

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 2 teaspoons dried thyme, or herbs de Provence, crumbled

Meat

  • a frenched rack of lamb (8 ribs) at room temperature, trimmed of as much fat as possible, well-seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or more to taste

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • In a small skillet heat oil and butter over moderate heat until foaming. Cook shallots with salt and pepper to taste, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add vinegar and boil until liquid is evaporated. 
  • Remove skillet from heat and stir in bread crumbs, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

Can be made one day ahead. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

  • Season lamb with salt and pepper and arrange, rib side down, in a small roasting pan. Spread meat side with a thin coating of mustard and evenly pat on crumb mixture. 
  • Roast lamb in middle of oven until a meat thermometer registers 130°F. for medium-rare, 25 to 30 minutes. 
  • Cover lamb with foil and let rest at least 10 minutes.
  • Slice lamb into chops between the rib bones and serve.

NOTE: Using a meat thermometer helps, preferably one with a cable probe. Just insert the probe lengthwise into the thickest part of the roast, taking care not to hit any bone. It will ensure your meat is cooked perfectly, and it makes for hands-off cooking.

ACCOMPANIMENTS:

I happen to adore a good risotto with a nice piece of roast lamb. If you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, you can make this risotto recipe while the lamb is roasting. A green salad with sliced pears, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, and some crumbled Gorgonzola or bleu cheese would be great. Use your favorite dressing.

Wines: Pinot noir is the way to go with this. Its bright, fruity notes and acidity are the perfect balance for the richness of the lamb. Pinots from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are a great choice. Try the David Hill Winery Estate pinot noir, or one from Westrey Oracle Vineyard. You’ll get lots of pomegranate, cherry, and vanilla notes, along with a nice forest earthiness and mineral flavor to balance it out with the meat. I have found both at The Wine Source in Hampden.

I’ll leave dessert up to you. Just remember, unwrap it slowly and savor it. Linger over it. Whatever it might be.

Try Linda’s Southern Tomato Pie

Southern Tomato-Pie-with-BasilFrom Linda Riittelman

Tomatoes are at their peak right now, and if your garden runneth over and you’ve runneth out of ways to serve them, you can’t beat this Southern summer favorite for flavor. I’ve adapted my recipe slightly from one in Saveur magazine.

No one will give you a second look if you use a store-bought pie crust—just treat a store-bought crust the same way you would the scratch crust by blind baking it and proceed from there. If you make your own, you’ll notice my recipe includes vodka. The alcohol evaporates during baking and leaves a flakier crust, and because this can be a wet pie, you need flaky crust.

Another trick: if you’re going to all the time and trouble to caramelize onions, don’t cook just one. Cook up a big batch of them—I make mine in the slow cooker. They keep well and add amazing flavor to any dish. Just measure out 2/3 cup from the batch to use in the pie.

Southern Tomato Pie
Makes one 10-inch pie
Time: 2 1/2 hours

For the crust

  • 114 cups all-purpose flour
  • 212 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 12 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. cold butter cut into 12-inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp. plus ice-cold water
  • 1 tbsp. ice-cold vodka

For the filling and topping

  • 2 1/2 lb. vine-ripe tomatoes (about 5 beefsteak tomatoes), cored, seeded, and cut into 1⁄2-inch dice (divided)
  • 1 large pint of yellow grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half (other colors are fine too)
  • 2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. sugar, divided
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced with the grain
  • 1 tsp. picked thyme, or ½ tsp. dried
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 14 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 13 cup whole basil leaves, packed
  • 12 cup mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s brand)
  • 13 cup grated Fontina cheese
  • 13 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 large Roma or heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced and blotted dry with paper towels

Instructions

  • Make the piecrust: place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds. Begin adding the butter one cube at a time. Continue until the flour is speckled and crumbly, about 4 minutes. With the mixer still running, add the water and vodka until just combined. Do not overmix. Press the dough into a 6-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.
  • Bring the crust to room temperature and lightly butter a 10-inch pie pan. Preheat the oven to 400°. Dust your counter and rolling pin lightly with flour and roll the crust slightly larger than your pan. Lay the crust in the pan and press gently into its edges. Cut off the edges that hang over and discard. Freeze for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to blind-bake.
  • Lay foil or parchment paper on top of the crust and weigh that down with dried beans or rice. Blind-bake the shell for 30 minutes. Remove the pie weights and foil or parchment and bake 5 minutes more. Set the cooked crust aside as you prepare the filling.
  • Make the filling: Toss half of the diced tomatoes with 1⁄2 tsp. salt and 1⁄2 tsp. sugar. Set them over a colander to drain while you get everything else ready, at LEAST an hour. Stir occasionally and make sure they have room to drain freely. You want them as dry as possible.
  • Lower the oven to 375°. Toss the remaining diced tomatoes, and the halved grape tomatoes with 1⁄2 tsp. salt, thyme, and olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper with as much room separating the individual pieces as possible. Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and roast for 35-40 minutes, stirring halfway through. You’re looking for the tomatoes to dry out and brown slightly. Let them cool slightly before adding to the drained tomatoes.
  • While the tomatoes are roasting, in a medium sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter and then add the onion and 1⁄2 tsp. salt. Cook over medium-low heat until deeply caramelized. This will take about 30-40 minutes. If the onion gets away from you and burns a little, add 1⁄4 cup of water to the pan, scrape up the overbrowned bits, and keep going. In the end, you have a scant 2⁄3 cup caramelized onion.
  • Once all the individual components are done, stir together the caramelized onion, the fresh and roasted diced tomatoes, the remaining salt, sugar, black pepper, and basil. Taste for seasoning.
  • Make the topping and finish the pie: In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and Fontina and Parmesan cheeses. Spoon the tomato filling into your blind-baked crust. Top with the cheese mixture and fresh tomato slices. Bake in the middle of your oven for 30 minutes.

Let the pie cool for at least 30 minutes or it won’t hold its shape when you try and serve it. Serve warm or at room temperature. I usually can’t wait that long and make a mess of it, but it still tastes delicious.