Flames flicker in the fireplace, and the table is set with crystal, black satin and candles for the year's most romantic dinner. This Valentine's Day meal begins with chicken breasts that are stuffed with walnut-and-leek filling, then enclosed in parchment hearts and poached in broth and wine, which provide the base for the accompanying pomegranate sauce. This crimson fruit has long found an important place on the tables of those who take the sensuality of eating seriously, and it is believed that pomegranates were used in fertility rites during prehistoric times. The pomegranate juice is added to the cooking liquid, and when the mixture has been reduced by half, the sauce is finished by adding butter. The sliced chicken is then fanned over the sauce on each plate.
(Although there are few fresh pomegranates to be found in local markets by Valentine's Day, canned pomegranate juice will add a similar sensuality to the recipe. And if you can't find pomegranates or canned pomegranate juice, raspberry sauce studded with fresh fruit will make a fine alternative.)
For a side dish, try shoestring sweet potatoes that have been deep-fried and dotted with whole sage leaves, then piled into little nests next to the chicken. Afterwards, serve Mesculum, a salad of many colors, with a citrusy vinaigrette. Mesculum is more of an approach to salad making rather than a recipe; it intermingles leaves and sprigs of tender lettuce with herbs.
A dessert--and some champagne--complete the recipe for romance. WALNUT-STUFFED CHICKEN PAUPIETTES WITH POMEGRANATE SAUCE
1 pomegranate or 1/2 cup canned pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup raspberry juice and fresh raspberries for garnish
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons chopped leek
3 tablespoons chopped celery
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
cup walnut pieces, toasted at 375 degrees about 10 minutes
2 chicken-breast halves, about 6 ounces each, boned and skinned
1 tablespoon grenadine syrup
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
Cut pomegranate in quarters and remove seeds, collecting them in strainer over bowl. Set aside 2 tablespoons prettiest seeds for garnish. With back of spoon, press seeds against side of strainer to extract juice, collecting it in bowl; there should be about 1/2 cup juice. Set aside.
In skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add leek and celery and saute until vegetables are translucent and beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons each stock and wine. Bring to boil, then cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has almost evaporated. Cool slightly. Transfer mixture to food processor and add walnuts. Process to make coarse paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Cut parchment paper or foil into two 15-inch hearts and butter. To prepare chicken breasts, place flat on work surface. Holding sharp knife parallel to surface, make deep lengthwise cut in each, starting from one long edge and cutting almost, but not all the way, through to opposite edge. (This will be easier if chicken is placed in freezer 30 minutes to partially freeze.) Open chicken breasts out flat and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. Place each piece of chicken on one side of buttered parchment heart.
Place half of walnut mixture on each chicken breast and spread to within 1/2 inch of edges. Fold top of each piece over filling, pressing edges with fingers to seal. Fold parchment over chicken, bringing edges of paper even and crimp to seal.
In skillet, combine remaining stock and wine and bring to boil. Add paupiettes . Cover and simmer 5 minutes, turning once. Remove paupiettes to plate and keep them warm.
Add pomegranate or raspberry juice and grenadine to cooking liquid. Bring to boil, then reduce to 1/2 cup. Whisk in butter, piece by piece. Stir in reserved pomegranate seeds or fresh raspberries.
To serve, remove chicken from parchment and slice diagonally into 4 to 5 pieces. Pour some of pomegranate or raspberry sauce on individual dinner plates and arrange chicken slices over sauce. Makes 2 servings. SHOESTRING SWEET POTATOES WITH SAGE LEAVES
Oil for deep frying
2 small sweet potatoes or yams, cut shoestring-style
12 whole fresh sage leaves
Heat oil in deep-fat fryer to 375 degrees. Add half of potatoes along with half of sage leaves. Fry until potatoes are crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Repeat with remaining potatoes and sage leaves. Arrange in little nests on serving plates. Makes 2 servings. MESCALUM
Few leaves each butter lettuce, radicchio, arugula, dandelion and endive
cup julienne slices sweet yellow pepper
6 whole chives, split and cut in 4-inch lengths
In salad bowl or on individual plates, combine butter lettuce, radicchio , arugula, dandelion, endive, yellow pepper and chives. Add Orange-Mustard Vinaigrette and toss lightly. Makes 2 servings. Orange Mustard Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons champagne or other white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
cup extra-virgin olive oil
In bowl, combine vinegar, orange juice, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in olive oil.
Produced by Robin Tucker
Food stylist: Karen Gillingham
Tableware from David Orgell, Beverly Hills
Linens from Pratesi, Beverly Hills
Wicker Works chair from Donghia, Los Angeles