Once in a blue moon, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, as it does this year.
Decisions, decisions. Sins of the flesh or sackcloth and ashes? No need to choose. Cover both bases with a batch of home-made chocolate truffles and a couple of fiery little salsas that’ll make even the shortest of Lenten commons taste good.
Roses are red, violets are blue and if you’ve already spent the winter-fuel payment, so are you. Make these exquisite little mouthfuls just before you need them – fresh cream doesn’t keep for more than a few hours out of the fridge. Makes about 1½lb.
500g high-quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) 250ml whipping cream Optional: a dash of strong liquor –
brandy, whisky, crème de menthe, rum About 100g cocoa powder, sieved or squashed free of lumps
Break the chocolate into small pieces into a bowl. Heat the cream in a roomy pan, remove as soon as it rises and allow to cool for a minute or two. Beat the hot cream into the chocolate with a wooden spoon till it’s smooth. Chocolate melts at body heat – so you need to keep it warm. Beat in the optional liquor.
Leave to cool at room temperature for a couple of hours.
Whisk with an electric beater till the mixture becomes light and airy and begins to set – 3-4 minutes. If it fails to lighten and set, the chocolate was too lean: melt it gently over hot water with an ounce of two of unsalted butter and whisk again.
Drop teaspoonfuls of the mix into the cocoa powder on a plate. Roll them around to coat, making them as spherical as you can, and transfer to a tray dusted with more cocoa powder. Set the tray in the fridge for the truffles to firm. Pop them in a box, tie it with a ribbon, tuck a rose in your teeth and present it on bended knee.
Usually served in Catalonia with bacalao – salt cod, soaked and blistered on the grill – as the traditional fasting food in Lent, and just as delicious as a dip for toasted sourdough with a handful of bitter leaves – endive or dandelion or frisée – on the side. Makes about 500ml.
2-3 garlic cloves, skinned and crushed ½ tsp sea salt 2 heaped tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
fried crisp in a little olive oil 2 heaped tbsp toasted almonds 2-3 roasted/ fried red peppers, de-seeded 2-3 large tomatoes, skinned, roughly chopped 1 fresh red chilli, hulled and de-seeded 3-4 tbsp sherry or wine vinegar About 150ml olive oil
Drop the garlic, salt, breadcrumbs and almonds into a food processor and whizz to blend. Add the pepper, tomatoes, chilli and vinegar and process till smooth. Add the oil in a thin trickle, as for a mayonnaise, till thick and shiny. Store in the fridge in a screw-top jar.
No need for exact measurements for this simple Mexican salsa. Combine a diced onion with a handful of pitted green olives, 1-2 de-seeded green chillis and a generous handful of fresh coriander or mint leaves or both. Add the grated zest and juice of one lemon or an orange (or both), mix well and leave to blend the flavours for an hour or so at room temperature. Good with plain-cooked rice and a fried egg, as they like it in Yucatan, land of the Mayas. Store as above.