I wasn’t raised on the East End, but I’ve always felt a strong pull to Long Island Wine Country, having spent many summers here with my grandparents at their Aquebogue ranch. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated from culinary school, done my professional coast-to-coast tour of duty and had my first big break-up that I decided to lay stakes.
Sitting in the Village Cheese Shop on Love Lane in Mattituck with my Tia (half-best friend, half-aunt, all beauty) discussing careers, heartaches and the future I thought to myself “I could live here, why don’t I live here?”
Now, having been settled here for three years, I spend weekends, holidays and the coveted days off exploring all the hidden and not-so-hidden gems of the East End.
For Valentine’s Day—what better way to pay homage to this beautiful place I call home than by celebrating the very spot that started my love affair with The East End—Love Lane.
As a chef, one of the biggest V-Day problems I come across is how to make a filling, romantic meal without overdoing it. Many foods that are considered exquisite are also very rich and can leave us feeling less ready for romance and more ready for pajamas and a nap. You know the saying “less is more?” It’s true. Forgo the heavy meal for a few smaller plates that will fill you up, turn you on and leave you energized for whatever the night may bring.
All of these recipe options are gluten free. The key ingredients to these dishes are not only aphrodisiacs but can be found on Love Lane—your go-to for the perfect romantic meal any time of year.
1 pint fresh figs
4 ounces Cambozola (a blue-veined,triple-cream German brie. $9.99 a 1/4 pound at Village Cheese Shop, Mattituck)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Slice the tips off of the figs and then cut a cross pattern into them, being careful not to cut all the way through the bottom. Mix together the cheese and walnuts. Stuff a spoonful into the middle of each fig. If you’re feeling courageous—dust with granulated sugar and hit with your brûlée torch for added caramelized goodness. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Truffle NY Strip Bites
1 lb. New York strip (or boneless sirloin) steak, about 1 1⁄2” thick ($18.99 per pound at Lombardi’s Love Lane Market)
1/4 cup coarse sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons truffle butter (2.8 oz. container $19.99 at Lombardi’s Love Lane Market)
decorative food picks
Trim fat from steak and, for easier handling, cut into 4 smaller steaks. If you like your steak cooked past rare, pre-heat oven to 400°. Heat oven-safe skillet (cast iron works best) over medium-high heat, add EVOO. Dust steaks on all sides with salt. Once oil is hot—add springs of rosemary. Heat rosemary through and add steaks. Sear steaks on all sides—about 3 minutes per side.
Finish in oven for desired temps other than rare. Remove from heat, Place 1/2 tablespoon truffle butter on each steak and let stand for 5 minutes (let butter melt completely). Slice each piece into five slices and stick with decorative pick. Serve on a bed of fresh watercress.
1/2 cup rice (sticky works best)
3 tablespoons Parmesan, freshly grated ($13.99 a 1/2 pound at Village Cheese Shop, Mattituck)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1/2 cup fresh spinach, chopped
10–15 Nicoise olives, minced ($9.99 per pound at Lombardi’s Love Lane Market)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Cook rice. After water has been absorbed, mix in Parmesan cheese. Add in all remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Using a bowl of cold water to rinse your hands, roll rice mixture into bite-size balls and place evenly spaced on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, or until outside of balls is crisp. Plate and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
Keep dessert simple—stop at Love Lane Sweet Shoppe for boutique chocolates and truffles ($14.99 per 1/2 pound). Their staff pick is the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels, which pair well with Roanoke Vineyards’ 2013 Cab Franc, available in Roanoke’s Love Lane tasting room for $34 a bottle.