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Veal for Valentine's

David Darmanin of Taverna Sugu has a go at cynicism. Being an incurable romantic, he fails miserably and instead comes up with a recipe that will charm Valentines off their shoes

Veal for Valentine's
Veal for Valentine's


Main Ingredient Veal
Preparation Time less than 30 mins
Cooking Time 1 hour
Course Main: Meat
Recipe Serves 2
Recipe Type Modern: Maltese
I thought of starting this week’s blog like this: “Valentine’s Day is round the corner. Cupid rears his ugly head.”
Nonetheless, I regret that I am not a cynical man. I sob at most movies. I’ve even tear-jerked watching American Pie for God’s sake (honestly, I find the scene where Stifler’s mum offers Finch an 18 year-old Single Malt ‘just the way she likes it’ deeply moving).
Despising Valentine’s is not for me, although if truth be told, I have every reason to be skeptical about the whole damn thing.
The nature of my job does not allow for many off nights on 14 February. And in the same way some chefs turn up for work grumpy because dinner service meant missing some Milan-Inter derby on telly during the football season, I can’t help myself feeling a bit of a void when working a shift on Valentine’s. I secretly long for that yearly event were I am expected to turn up groomed at her door, take her somewhere fancy, crack jokes over a G&T, talk intimately over red wine, flirt shamelessly over Fernet Branca and end the night with a good roll in the hay. To me, watching men chase a ball for 90 minutes is hardly as entertaining. Call me a ponz.
Back to the subject, the prospect of sexual intercourse on Valentine’s comes with a completely different set of dynamics to those of any other date. Dinner on Valentine’s is pre-coital, it is foreplay in its rawest of forms. You both know you’re getting laid after dessert, and the certainty of it is often taken to an extent that her panna cotta nearly becomes part of the sexual act itself. On any other date bar 14 February there is hardly any guarantee, even if you play your cards right.
Yet, my reason for distrusting Valentine’s Day is hardly rooted in my yearning for it. Rather, it stems from the black cloud that stalks me every time I manage to take an evening off for the occasion. I’ve had more than my fair share of embarrassing moments, nights gone wrong and catastrophic fall-outs coinciding with Valentine’s. Some stories, such as the one where I was shown the door on the Valentine’s Day coinciding with our first anniversary, are too private to mention. But you get the gist.
Others are public knowledge. You have already heard them. Now you know I was the artifice.
My staying away from Valentine’s proves a wise career choice. Working in catering on the night comes with the security of not being the only attendee to a ‘traffic lights’ singles party. Throughout the rest of the year, I’m free of the angst leading to a lonely night at home watching yet another repeat of Scrubs. I feel privileged to know that my alternative to being lonely and miserable is being behind the stoves on the night, plating some 60 nicely adorned aphrodisiacs in two hours. In its own right, that’s another form of sex.
Here is my quandary. As a chef, I am convinced by the approach of producing a menu that includes my personal reminiscences of a particular occasion. For instance, as cliché as it may sound (the extreme romanticism in the animated movie Ratatouille ruined it all), it is imperative to include positive childhood memories when designing traditional menus – it just works (by the way, I still sobbed in that Ratatouille scene). With a Valentine’s menu for Taverna Sugu, I find myself with my back against the wall. I’m not cooking coal am I?
So other than lifting an avocado-laden menu off the website of some restaurant in distant Sydney (believe me you, some actually resort to such sorry tactics); I have decided to take a more scientific approach. Dave, forget Valentine’s and go down nostalgia lane, analyse what strange magic possessed us to blame horniness on the food we ate prior to those athletic sessions of fornication and take it from there. The findings were astonishingly obvious:

1. Go light on garlic. Even if your mutual halitosis should balance out when lips meet – self-consciousness stifles self-confidence.

2. Avoid heavy, fat-rich dishes. Try running a mile after a heavy meal. You need to be in good shape for the afters.

3. Gas-invoking ingredients are a no-no. There’s hardly a need for explanation why.

4. Ride the urban legend bandwagon. Contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific proof to support aphrodisiacs. It’s all placebo. But if it works don’t snub it. Asparagus. Champagne. Chocolate. Why not?

5. Create new myths. I was once turned on by a date suggesting that horsemeat enhances sexual prowess. Because I believed it, it worked. So horsemeat it is.

6. Don’t be soppy. It’s a turn-off.

Here’s a fine example:

Veal is very lean. It does not produce gas, or halitosis. In ancient Egypt, fennel (which you will use with your potatoes) was used to enhance libido. Should work.

Besides, Malta is blessed with high-grade veal – as opposed to local beef. Being grass-fed, local beef does not graze enough to produce much fat – which is, as restaurant reviewer and food writer Mona bluntly describes it: “very bad if you know anything about food.” Local veal on the other hand, feeds off low-fat cow’s milk – producing a very tender flesh.

What you need:

For the T-bone:

2 T-Bone steaks of local veal, 350g each (don’t worry, there’s a bone in it)
Rind of half a lemon, grated
Fresh oregano
Ground black pepper
Coarse sea-salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the potatoes:

500g local potatoes (red-eye variety), peeled and wedged
Fennel seeds
Coarse sea-salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

How to do it:

Rub oil onto the steaks first, then the lemon rind, salt, oregano and pepper. Sear on a hot griddle. Braise under a lid for 5 to 7 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius for medium-rare. Forget any other grade.

Sprinkle salt, oil and fennel onto the potatoes and mix well. Roast at 180 degrees Celsius until the potatoes turn golden brown. Flip potatoes over on the other side occasionally to avoid charring.



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David Darmanin
February 06, 2011
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@ Mona

Charm them off their shoes seemed more polite, ridt nohrog ta' gentilmens.

Low-fat cow's milk, because they feed them off the Parmalat skimmed milk tetrapacks (not)... Local cows don't graze much (if at all), so they ruminate less and produce less fat. Their milk contains less fat as a result. Therefore, milk-fed veal feeds on low fat, and is therefore leaner and farts less.

Can you explain how the mention of a bone would make you think that one would want to take ladies for a ride? What is the connection? :p


I have no excuse, other than admitting that the American Pie idea was included hastily with the intention of allegoric effect and was inspired by one of Margerita's latest contributions... Ingbart xi ftit issa? Pero' vera pansy :)

Mona Farrugia
February 05, 2011
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When you write 'don't worry - there's a bone in it' don't you think you're trying to take us ladies for a ride?

This Charming Man
February 05, 2011
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Deeply moved by American Pie? You big pansy, you.

Mona Farrugia
February 05, 2011
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Dave, didn't you want to write 'charm the pants off them'? And what is 'low-fat cow's milk'?

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