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A rare Valentine’s Day together calls for a special treat

Gordon Hamersley's recipe for Valentine's pavlova with mission figs, ginger and port.Karoline Boehm Goodnick for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Gordon Hamersley and his wife, Fiona, owned Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End for
27 years, until they closed the restaurant late last year. His cooking column appears in the Food section biweekly, offering chef’s tips, dishes he’s been making lately, favorite recipes, and more. Read his last columns on mac and cheese, and the smoked fish chowder called cullen skink.

In a restaurant, when you combine romance and dinner (read: high stress), you never know what might happen. At Hamersley’s on Valentine’s Day one year we witnessed a spectacular breakup involving a woman in a red dress and her longhaired hipster mate with a glass of champagne dripping from his face. Another year a young man asked us (and we obliged, much to the amusement of the other diners) to snake through the dining room with a 15-foot banner inscribed with passionate words of love and a plea for “yes” to the question of marriage.The couple came back before we closed and asked if I remembered them. Of course I did!


Since Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest nights in the restaurant business, my wife, Fiona, and I were never together. This year will be
the first time in many years. And I’ll cook for
her, ending our special dinner with an elegant Pavlova.

Named for Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian ballet dancer, this is a beautiful meringue dessert filled with sweetened cream, usually garnished with fresh fruits. In the middle of winter, I like to use dried Mission figs, first softened in tea, then simmered in a gingery port sauce.

The outside of the meringue is delicate and crunchy and has a hint of caramelized sugar taste; the inside is soft and slightly chewy. Mission figs and ginger balance each bite. The components can be made well ahead and dessert assembled just before serving.


Making meringue is an easy process once you get the hang of it. But there are some things that have to be done correctly to achieve success. Here are a few tips: Make sure when separating the whites from the yolks that no yolk (this is actually fat) is in the whites. It will cause the whites to deflate. Start with the egg whites at room temperature. I like whipping whites in a stand mixer because it is so efficient, sprinkling in the sugar at the side of the bowl 1 tablespoon at a time to create good structure. Adding cream of tartar will keep the meringue from losing volume. After whisking, the whites should be stiff and glossy. Form them into a round and bake in a low oven for an hour, then leave the meringue inside the oven to cool slowly so it won’t crack. Softening the figs in tea breaks down the sugar and keeps them tender.

Fiona and I like Pavlova so much, we’re thinking of starting dinner with it. As the saying goes, life is short; eat dessert first.

Hamersley’s past columns:

Introducing a chef you already know, Gordon Hamersley

Recipe for crispy macaroni and blue cheese

Scottish fishing village soup proves quite a catch

Recipe for cullen skink with clams, leeks, and potatoes

Gordon Hamersley can be reached at cookingwithgordonhamersley@gmail.com.