Tastes that tempt

From curried oysters to sweet figs, this exotic menu of aphrodisiac recipes is sure to get your valentine in the mood.

Published February 13, 2007 12:44PM (EST)

Starter: Curried Oysters With Chardonnay

Yields 2 servings

24 oysters on the half shell
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
1 cup chardonnay or other dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Madras curry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Drain the oysters, reserving the juice. Set a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and sauté the shallots for 2 to 3 minutes to soften. Add the wine and reserved oyster liquor. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain into a saucepan, discarding any solids.

Stir the cream into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced again by half. (For a thicker sauce, dissolve 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of cold water to make a slurry. Add bit by bit to the sauce until slightly thickened.) Add the curry and salt to the sauce.

Arrange the oysters (in their shells) in a roasting pan. Season each oyster with pepper and top with a tablespoon of sauce. Bake for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the oysters are just cooked and the cream is beginning to brown.

Main: Sausage With Fig Sauce

Yields 2 to 3 servings

For the fig sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 slice lemon
1 pound fresh or canned figs, drained

For the sausages:
3/4 pound spicy Italian sausage links
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the fig sauce, combine the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and lemon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the figs. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the syrup has reduced and thickened slightly. If possible, cool in the syrup overnight.

For the sausages, set a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the sausages to the hot oil to brown. Pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the sausages are cooked through and the wine has evaporated. (If the sausages are starting to burn, add 1/2 to 1 cup of water and cook until all the water has evaporated.) Add the figs and their syrup to warm through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the sausages with the whole figs and spoon with the fig syrup.

Side: Arabian Couscous With Pine Nuts and Raisins

Yields 2 to 3 servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 medium carrot, diced
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup dark raisins, plumped
1/2 cup couscous
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot; sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and raisins. Raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the couscous and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dessert: Orange Blossom Panna Cotta

Orange blossom water is available in some grocery stores and in most Middle Eastern and Indian grocers. As an alternative, you can steep a few strips of orange zest in a bit of hot water until infused, about 20 minutes. It won't be the same, but it will lend a mild, sweet orange flavor to the peaches and panna cotta. For a little variety, try replacing the orange blossom water with rose water, and the edible flowers with pesticide-free rose petals. Sprinkle a few extra petals heading toward the bedroom or garden tub for extra flourish.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (about 1/2 envelope)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons orange blossom water, divided
4 ripe peaches, peeled and diced
4 to 8 edible violets or other purple flowers, pesticide free

Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit 10 minutes to soften.

Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the cream, half-and-half and sugar.

Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the gelatin mixture and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the orange blossom water, stirring to dissolve the gelatin completely. Pour the cream mixture into 4 ramekins or pretty serving glasses, and cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 6 hours or overnight for the panna cotta to set.

Just before serving, place the diced peaches in a small bowl and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of orange blossom water. Stir gently to distribute the flavor.

To serve, fill a mixing bowl with hot water. Dip each ramekin in the hot water for several seconds and run a knife around the edge to loosen the cream from the sides. Place a serving dish on top of the ramekin and invert. Or serve the panna cotta directly in the ramekin and avoid the cumbersome unmolding process altogether. Place a small mound of peaches on top of the panna cotta and sprinkle more peaches around the plate. Garnish with an edible blossom.

By Salon Staff

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