Valentine’s Day is here and what better way to celebrate than with an authentic menu from one of my favourite French regions: Le Sud-Ouest! It’s the land of juicy magret de canard, buttery foie gras, glossy prunes, Armagnac, and of course, robust wines.
Sure, you can take the simple route and plan a very French and very easy three-course meal: start with a nice salad drizzled with a mustard, red wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped walnuts, follow with a good entrecôte/frites, and finish with mousse au chocolat or a classic cheese board and fruit. Or, you can opt for something that requires a little more effort and is guaranteed to transport you to sunny southwest France. And honestly, who wouldn’t want that in the middle of a bleak, cold month like February?
To make it a little easier on you, I’ve kept the menu to two courses. However, you might want to start with a Kir and a few olives, or keep it really traditional with warm toast, foie gras, onion confit and a glass of Sauternes or Monbazillac. No cooking involved and a perfect start to any meal.
Before you read the following recipes and start making your shopping list, let me just take a moment to give you a few tips for a dinner full of romance and French charm:
*Set your table with a beautiful runner in a soft shade such as lavender or dusty rose. Polish your silverware, choose pretty plates, neatly fold your cotton or linen napkins, and make sure you have decent wine and water glasses.
*Light tall candles that are a few shades darker than your table runner.
*Instead of a large flower arrangement, trim the stems of assorted blooms and arrange them in small vases or mason jars.
*French chansons are always a good idea! Try something mellow and romantic like Charles Aznavour. As the night progresses, you might want to swoon to the tunes of Serge Gainsbourg.
*Have a fireplace? Let it roar!
*Last but not least, make sure you have great wine to go with your dinner. A full-bodied Madiran or a Pomerol will pair well with the main course.
Bon appétit and vive l’amour!
French Style Valentine’s Day Menu
Brochettes de Magret
These hearty brochettes de magret combine many of the ingredients that the southwest of France is known for: duck, Pruneaux d’Agen and Armagnac. They are incredibly easy to make and are perfect for your romantic dinner or a quick, filling lunch. Cook the skewers over a hot grill taking care to turn them frequently so that the sugars in the fruit won’t burn. A green salad and perhaps some good bread is all you’ll need to serve alongside.
Makes about 4 brochettes, depending on the size of your skewers
8 pitted Pruneaux d’Agen
2 tbsps Armagnac
1 small orange, sliced and cut into small triangles
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tsp salt (preferably fleur de sel)
2 tsps pink peppercorns
1 large magret de canard, cut into large sections
Soak the prunes in the Armagnac for at least 30 minutes. Finely chop the rosemary, pink peppercorns and salt. You want to end up with a fine spice rub. Divide the rub in two equal amounts. Sprinkle half of the rub over the pieces of duck. Thread on skewers starting with an orange section, then a piece of duck and then a prune. Finish off with an orange section. Before grilling the brochettes, squeeze a little orange juice over them and sprinkle with the rest of the rub. Grill to your liking, taking care to turn the brochettes frequently.
Glace aux Pruneaux et Armagnac
Forget the usual rum-raisin variety, the flavour of this Armagnac-infused ice cream is definitely more elegant. Together with an espresso, it makes the perfect ending to your meal. Or serve a single boule over a warm fondant au chocolat for a taste of heaven on earth!
Makes about 1 litre
15 Pruneaux d’Agen, chopped
800ml single cream
1 vanilla pod. split in half and seeds scraped out
4 egg yolks
170g caster sugar
Soak the chopped prunes in 75ml of Armagnac overnight. The following day, heat the prunes and the rest of the Armagnac (in a covered saucepan) gently for about 3 minutes. Allow to cool. Place the cream, vanilla seeds and vanilla pod in a large saucepan. Heat gently for 3 minutes taking care not to boil the cream. Remove from the heat, take out the vanilla pod and set aside. Beat the egg yolks and the sugar until pale and creamy. Add a little of the egg mixture to the cream and whisk well. Pour the rest of the eggs into the saucepan with the cream, start whisking immediately and return to the heat. Cook over a very low heat, whisking constantly. Once the mixture is thickened (10-15 minutes) remove from the heat, stir in prunes and Armagnac and pour into a bowl set over iced water. Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. Churn (in batches if necessary) in an ice cream machine. Should you not have an ice cream machine, the freezer works fine, too. In that case, you won’t need to refrigerate overnight.
Paola, Queen of French Cuisine!
Paola Westbeek is a food, wine and travel writer with a good dose of joie de vivre. She is passionate about French cooking, old-fashioned chansons, Rembrandt and life. Paola is available for all kinds of recipe development, food and wine writing, and culinary advice. For more information visit: inmylife-paola.blogspot.com, Twitter @la_douce_vie