The Perfect Valentine’s Day Ingredient

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It’s not chocolate, or oysters or ribeye steaks – those are all great ingredients to be sure. But there is one ingredient that shines above all others for the most romantic day of the year.

Pepper.

Pink peppercorns to be specific.

Pepper is one of the world’s most precious and storied spices, used in cuisines all over the world. Black, white and green peppercorns are all from the same plant, the piper nigra, harvested at different stages of development, each possessing their own unique flavour profiles. But today, Valentine’s day, it’s time to think pink.

Pink peppercorns are prized for their beautiful colour as well as their bright, peppery flavour, and, as a garnish, add a touch of beauty and drama to a cream based soup or pasta. But did you know that the pink peppercorn is not actually a member of the peppercorn family? In fact the little pink beauties are dried berries harvested from a shrub called the Schinus Molle, also known as the Peruvian peppertree, a plant that is more closely related to the cashew. For this reason, those who may have nut allergies may also experience allergic reactions to pink peppercorns.

 

The Peruvian Peppertree and its signature berries

The Peruvian Peppertree and its signature berries

 

Pink peppercorns are more than just a rose-coloured peppercorn, their flavour, though peppery, also has notes of citrus and a floral scent that reminds us it is actually a berry. And because it is a dried berry, it is still quite soft and papery and relatively hollow, unlike the piper nigra which is actually the hard seed of that plant’s fruit. This is why the pink peppercorn doesn’t grind so well in a pepper mill; it splits and shreds and more often is likely to clog up the mill. For this reason it is better to use a mortar and pestle to smush the little berries, or the flat sides of a chef’s knife.

 

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One of our favourite recipes for pink peppercorns is also one of the simplest pasta dishes you are likely to come across, but don’t let its simplicity fool you! Sometimes the simplest things are the best things. Long noodles like spaghetti, bucatini or linguine are great for this dish, as is mafaldine, which has a fancier, frilly look, maybe more in keeping with Valentine’s day. This dish will come together in about twenty minutes leaving you lots of time to concentrate on more important activities;)  Happy Valentines Day!

Pasta with Pink Peppercorns

serves two lovebirds

5-6 ounces spaghetti, mafaldine other long noodles

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons crushed pink peppercorns

¼ cup just-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Boil the noodles until al dente. Drain the noodles and reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta water. In a large pan melt the butter and add the noodles and pasta water. Add one and a half teaspoons of the pink peppercorns, and half the parmesan cheese, and let it cook a minute or two until a nice sauce develops. Remove from heat and serve. Top with the other half of the cheese and garnish with the remaining pink peppercorn.



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