Try delicious red foods for Valentine’s dinner. Enjoy Grandma-style pizza, roasted radishes and sweet beets.

February 7, 2024
For a delicious red food that's good for Valentine's Day and your heart, try radishes — both roasted and raw. Photos by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
For a delicious red food that’s good for Valentine’s Day and your heart, try radishes — both roasted and raw. Photos by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

The color red is closely bound to the 14th of February because it is the color, by and large, of the human heart, by tradition held as the seat of love, the signal emotion of Valentine’s Day.

That ought be honor enough for red, but then of course the culture aggrandizes red to signify courage, danger or sacrifice, even anger. Let’s just let it mean love.

It’s the holiday, Cupid. I offer a three-course dinner that, as a soaring sign of love, one beloved could cook for the other. All the foods are heavily colored, yes, in red.

Serving this dinner on Valentine’s Day evening (or whenever) would be quite the sign, well above and beyond saying anything cute via a candy heart or picking up the tab for a restaurant two-top on that same middle night of February.

About the beets, in particular, as red as red gets: Beets are best roasted by themselves, not in the same pan with other vegetables. If not, they tend to “bleed” like a broken heart and make everything, well, red.

It’s said that the sweetest (and most un-vegetal-like) of beets is the roasted beet. See for yourself, er, yourselves.

Radishes in the French way, both roasted and raw

The French have a way with radishes, red ones or otherwise. They butter them, both raw and cooked (yes, you can — and profitably — cook radishes), which serves to cut the radish’s pepperiness and, well, it is so French to butter stuff.

The radish recipes here offer them with nary variant ingredients, both raw and roasted. (Wait until you taste a roasted radish.) Makes enough for two (or more).

Radish recipe for the roasted:

Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com and wickedspatula.com

Ingredients

6-8 medium to large radishes, trimmed of greens and tails, very well-cleaned and dried (about 1/2 pound)

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, French if available

2 teaspoons sweet, unsalted French butter such as Isigny Ste. Mère or Président brand, melted

Kosher or sea salt, French if available, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Lemon wedges, for spritzing (optional)

Directions

Slice the radishes, stem to tail (“pole to pole”) and lightly dry off the cut side with a paper towel (which will help the fats adhere while cooking). Heat the oven to 400 degrees and place a rack in the bottom third of the oven.

In a bowl, toss the radish halves with both fats and generously salt and pepper them. Toss to coat well. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, lay each radish half cut side down and roast for 14-15 minutes, until the flat sides begin to brown. Toss the radishes and continue roasting for an additional 3-7 minutes, depending on size, until all are well-wilted and nicely browned.

Correct for salt, if necessary, and serve with the optional lemon wedges, if desired.

Radish recipe for the raw:

Ingredients

8-10 small raw radishes, trimmed of greens and tails, very well-cleaned and dried

Sweet, unsalted French butter such as Isigny Ste. Mère or Président, softened, at room temperature

Finishing salt such as Maldon

Directions

Slice the radishes, stem to tail (“pole to pole”) and lightly dry off the cut side with a paper towel (which will help the butter adhere). Scoop up butter with each radish half (or, alternatively, use a butter knife to apply the butter), dusting with salt on the buttered side before enjoying.

Grandma-style New York Pizza

Most of us think of “New York-style” pizza in its Neapolitan way: round, thin-crust, sliced into wedges, baked on the floor of a hellishly hot oven. Another very New York sorta pizza pie is “Grandma-style,” a Sicilian-style pizza made in a regular home kitchen’s conventional oven by a grandmother (“Nonna”) for quick baking and even quicker eating, especially when the kiddos or grandkids pop over for a visit.

What’s the best part of a Grandma-style pizza: the toasted mozzarella cheese, the chewy focaccia-like crust, all the little brown bits or the delicious red sauce? All of the above. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
What’s the best part of a Grandma-style pizza: the toasted mozzarella cheese, the chewy focaccia-like crust, all the little brown bits or the delicious red sauce? All of the above. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

The crust of a Grandma pizza is essentially the same focaccia that she would have made as a house “bread,” layered with a thickness of fresh mozzarella and splotched with her always-handy marinara sauce. Makes 1, 18 x 13 inches.

Ingredients

1 package active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon plus 4 teaspoons white cane sugar, separated

1/2 cup plus 2 cups lukewarm water (100 degrees), separated

4 cups all-purpose bread flour

1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil

16 ounces fresh hand-pulled mozzarella, grated (close to 3 cups; see note)

1 and 1/2 cups good quality jarred or homemade “marinara” tomato sauce (see note)

Optional: dried Mediterranean (not Mexican) oregano,  red pepper flakes

Directions

Proof the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup lukewarm water for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, add the flour, the 4 teaspoons of sugar, and the salt and mix together well. Add the proofed yeast mixture, the olive oil and 2 cups lukewarm water, stirring to combine. The dough will be wet, not unlike a quick bread dough (though thicker), much less sturdy than a traditional bread dough.

Let rise, covered in a breathable kitchen towel, in a warmish place for 1 hour. Punch down and mix again; let rise another hour. Pour into an oiled 18 x 13 x 1-inch baking sheet pan, scraping out the bowl, to a thickness of between 1/2 to 2/3-inch thick. (You may lay parchment papers out on the sheet pan, then oil them, to allow for lavish spreading of the cheese in the following steps, but it is not necessary. There may be more than enough dough; do not exceed 3/4 of an inch in thickness.) Let rise another 1 hour, loosely covered with a floured towel or nothing at all.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 450 degrees. with one rack set in the lower 1/3 of the oven and another rack in the top 1/3.

Top the raw, unbaked dough with the mozzarella, scattering or placing it evenly, side-to-side, and evenly distribute splotches of the tomato sauce. Bake for 8 minutes on the lower rack, rotate the pan and cook for another 8 minutes on the lower rack. Then, cook for 8 minutes on the upper rack; and again, after rotating the pan, another 8 minutes on the same rack, or until the pizza is golden brown and crisp on its bottom and sides. (Which may necessitate a 3-4 minute bake on the lower rack once more.)

Serve, cut into hand-able squares, dusted with the oregano and/or pepper flakes, as desired.

Note: It is best to use fresh, white-milk, hand-turned mozzarella (what we often call “buffalo” or “bufala” mozzarella), instead of the ivory-colored, more dried sort of mozzarella cheese commonly used to make pizza and other Italian American dishes. However, if that’s all that you can access, it’s fine, too.

For the sauce, plain tomato “marinara” is traditional, although you could use one that is flavored, for example “with sausage.” Keep the sauce red, however, nor neither Nonna nor your Valentine will recognize the special pie.

Beets Roasted in Foil

Adapted from Mark Bittman, “How to Cook Everything,” John Wiley & Sons, 2008) Bittman writes: “This is the best method for cooking beets. It produces beets that are firm and not at all waterlogged. And it’s easy, neat and convenient.” Serves 4-8 depending on size of portion.

Some say that the sweetest red beets are those that are roasted in their skins, peeled, then quickly heated in a film of butter.
Some say that the sweetest red beets are those that are roasted in their skins, peeled, and then quickly heated in a film of butter.

Ingredients

Upwards of 2 pounds raw beets, close in size each (4 large or 8 medium or small)

Heavy-duty aluminum foil

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional: orange peel zest

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beets well and trim them lightly (that is, trim the tails to 1/2-inch or less and leave a small stub at the stem, or else they will bleed all over themselves). At this stage, do not peel the beets.

Dry the beets and massage each with a coating of good olive oil. Wrap them individually in foil (they’ll resemble giant chocolate “kisses”) and put them on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, with space in between each. (Some may leak.)

Bake, undisturbed, for 45-90 minutes (the largest beets take the longest to cook), until a thin-bladed knife pierces each with little resistance. (Based on their size, they will cook at different rates; remove each one when it is done). When beets are cool enough to handle, unwrap the foil and rub and slip off the skins (under slowly running water sometimes helps).

Cut the beets into chunks no larger than a 1-inch across. Add 2-3 tablespoons butter to a large skillet, with (if desired) 1 additional tablespoon of the olive oil used previously. When the butter is melted, swirl it in the pan, add the beet chunks, raise the heat to medium-high, and toss the beets for a couple of minutes, coating the chunks well.

Sprinkle with an unholy amount of kosher, sea or finishing salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with orange zest, if desired. Serve forth.

Reach Bill St. John at

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