Straight to the heart

Karen Martini
Scampi ceviche.
Scampi ceviche. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Everyone deals with Valentine's Day differently. For some, it's heart-shaped balloons and single roses. For others, champagne and a sprawling degustation. Others would rather ignore it. For me, it's about cooking something special at home.

Scampi ceviche

This dish is an elegant, composed ceviche, the raw scampi cured in lime juice, resulting in springy flesh. This ''cooks'' the outer layer of the scampi but leaves a sashimi texture through the middle. This is a delicate, detailed and very pretty entree that relies on careful plating to make it sing.

Juice of 1 lime

60ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt flakes

Freshly ground pepper

1 pearl onion (fresh), finely sliced, or substitute ¼ or ½ a white salad onion

1 tsp castor sugar

1 celery heart (the pale-yellow fine stalks and leaves at the centre of a bunch of celery)


10 cloves

1 Lebanese cucumber

4 large scampi, shelled, deveined and split in half (or use fresh prawns)

60g quark, preferably organic

2 radishes, sliced in rounds

10g lumpfish roe or salmon caviar

Mint leaves

1. Whisk the lime juice with the olive oil to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Sprinkle the onion with salt and sugar, mix and allow to stand to soften.

3. Pick the pale leaves from the celery heart and slice the fine stalks on an angle.

4. Grind the cloves finely with a heaped tablespoon of salt flakes to make a fine powder.

5. Peel and deseed the cucumber and slice into small chunks.

6. Toss the scampi halves through the lime dressing. Leave to cure for three or four minutes.

7. Lay the cured scampi on your serving plates. Add two dollops of quark to each plate, then top with cucumber, celery, radish and onion, and scatter over some roe. Season with pepper and the clove salt. Finish with mint and celery leaves, spoon over a little of the lime dressing and serve.

Serves 2

Drink Blanc de blancs champagne.


Prawns with lettuce, avocado, anchovies and crisp garlic

Not everyone wants garlic and anchovies as principal ingredients on Valentine's Day, so maybe skip this one if you're just starting out. In truth, frying the garlic takes the sting out of it, and if you don't see eye to eye on anchovies now, you probably never will. This can serve as entree or main course.

100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more

4 cloves garlic, finely sliced

1/2 iceberg lettuce

1 ripe avocado

12 green king prawn cutlets (raw, shelled prawns), deveined, tails left on

Salt flakes

Freshly ground pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 punnet snowpea shoots, ends trimmed

6 quality anchovies

150ml creme fraiche

1. In a small pan, add 100ml of olive oil and the sliced garlic and bring to frying temperature over medium heat. Stir occasionally to keep the garlic slices separate and so they cook evenly. Fry until very pale golden (don't overcook or they'll be bitter) then remove and drain on a paper towel.

2. Slice the iceberg lettuce finely, chop the avocado into one-centimetre dice and arrange both on a shallow platter.

3. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Dress the prawns with a splash of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fry in two batches for about three minutes each or until just cooked.

4. Place the prawns on top of the lettuce, squeeze over some lemon juice and scatter over the pea shoots.

5. In a small pan, add the anchovies and a little of their oil and mash over medium heat. Let them dissolve slightly, then add the creme fraiche and mix through briefly. Take off the heat and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the dressing over the prawns, scatter over the crisp garlic and serve.

Serves 4

Drink Albarino

Tip Cooking the garlic slices by starting them in cold oil helps them to cook evenly and slowly; burnt or bitter garlic will ruin the dish.


Strawberries with caramel, goat's curd and crystallised ginger

This is a sophisticated play on strawberries and cream. It's perfect for Valentine's Day because once prepared, it doesn't take long to put together. The savoury curd and the tangy sweet-and-sour caramel are perfect for those who like desserts a little less cloying.

250g goat's curd

100g creme fraiche

180g castor sugar

70ml boiling water

80ml red wine vinegar

Salt flakes

3 punnets ripe strawberries, medium size

50g crystallised ginger, diced

1 packet hazelnut meringue finger biscuits or similar, such as cat's tongues

1. Take the goat's curd and creme fraiche from the fridge to bring to room temperature.

2. Pour the sugar into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Shake the pan as the sugar warms through. As it starts to liquefy and caramelise, stir to help it cook evenly. Bring to a dark caramel but watch carefully as it can burn quickly and is extremely hot.

3. Using a ladle, add the boiling water while the sugar is still on the heat; it will spit and bubble. Turn off the heat and quickly whisk in the vinegar. Keep stirring until well combined, with no lumps. Cool in the fridge until cold.

4. Line six dariole moulds (or small ramekins or even a small muffin tin - the mould is just to get a tidy shape) with muslin or other fine gauze-like cloth, with enough extra to tie off the top.

5. Fold the creme fraiche through the curd with a pinch of salt and spoon into moulds. Twist the muslin together at the top and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

6. Trim, hull and slice the strawberries. Mix the strawberries through the cold caramel and leave to marinate for an hour.

7. To serve, place a turret of curd on each plate, pile the strawberries around the curd and drizzle generously with caramel. Top the curd with the diced ginger and place a biscuit alongside.

Serves 6

Drink Brachetto d'Acqui or a young Rutherglen muscat

Photos: Marina Oliphant
Styling: Caroline Velik