Love is a many-splendored thing - or so Frank Sinatra and many others once sang.
February is here, and that means Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and although it’s now perhaps an over-commercialised event, the day has a diverse and interesting history.
Though there are plenty of claims to its origin, the most popular is that of St. Valentine of Rome who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers. It is said that, during imprisonment, St. Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer and before his execution wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell. The day would not become associated with love until the 14th century through the works of people like Geoffrey Chaucer.
What began as confectionery and flowers has now spread to all kinds of foods and drink.
The food of love is just as interesting and diverse as the history of St. Valentine. There’s the traditional well-known food like chocolate, strawberries, honey and drinks like wine and champagne. On the fringes, however, we are seeing some exotic and interesting food that we wouldn’t commonly associate with romance – principle among these are oysters (yes!), herbs, chilli peppers, avocado, salmon and watermelon to name a few. All of these are natural aphrodisiacs and, in the case of herbs, actually have a history in romance.
Maybe you aren’t able to whisk your partner away for Valentine’s Day this year – so why not make use of these more exotic flavours and transport your kitchen to the Mediterranean?
This is the best time of year to be eating seafood, so why not try grilled oysters with chilli peppers and tomato salsa? Or you could poach oysters in a chilli and pomegranate (another aphrodisiac) broth and serve with a guacamole featuring your avocado, chillies and herbs.
In the end, Valentine’s Day is a chance for us to take a moment amongst our hectic lives to spend time with our partners. So whether you spend the evening cooking or you order in a pizza and settle in front of the TV, it’s that time together - no matter how extravagant or simple - that really matters.
LEE CLARKE is head chef and owner of Prevost restaurant in Priestgate, Peterborough.