Preparing a special meal for a loved one or guests shouldn't keep you from actually spending time with those people. We often tend to equate elegant meals with hours of work in the kitchen, often at the expense of enjoying the food and company ourselves. I made this dinner for Valentine's Day but any special occasion would be appropriate and it can easily be made for two, four or six people. It's not only elegant enough to serve for a special dinner but it allows you to enjoy a glass of wine with the appetizer and spend only a few minutes to finish the cooking before the meal is ready to serve.
For the appetizer, heat a mix of olives in a small saute pan with a few drops of olive oil, the zest of one lemon, a few sprigs of thyme and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Warming the olives adds a special touch to this simple appetizer. Serve them immediately with a good cheese and crisp crackers. I chose one of my favorite cheeses, Pecorino Romano, a hard and salty Italian cheese. To compliment these salty flavors, pair them with a crisp rose, such as Tavel from the Rhone Valley of France. This dark colored rose is dry enough to drink throughout the meal, with enough fruit to balance the saltiness of the olives and cheese. Roses also pair well with tuna, which is a strong enough fish to hold up to both whites and reds.
While your enjoying this simple spread, preheat your oven to 450F for the asparagus. When the oven is preheated, trim the ends and toss in olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread them in one layer onto a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes. Roasting gives them a deep, nutty flavor with slightly crispy edges.
As the asparagus are roasting, heat a grill pan or a large saute pan over medium heat. Coat with a thin layer of olive oil. Season both sides of the tuna steaks (about 6-8 oz per person) with salt and pepper. I like my tuna just barely seared with the middle still raw. For this, you need to only cook each side for about a minute, depending on the thickness of the tuna. If you wanted it cooked through more, leave it on each side for a few minutes. Good sushi-grade tuna is usually available at most grocery stores or Whole Foods markets. It's pricier than some fish but definitely worth it for the quality. I squeezed a bit of lemon juice over each piece when it was done cooking and that's all it needs.
On the stove, next to the tuna, bring 3 cups of chicken stock to a simmer. Slowly pour in one cup of polenta, stirring constantly until it's thick and creamy. This takes less than a minute. After incorporating the polenta into the stock, stir in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and black pepper to taste.
By now, the asparagus should be done and everything should be plated and served immediately. Not only will this meal impress your guests, but you will have only spent about 15 minutes in the kitchen. This way you can make a great dinner and actually get to enjoy it too! So pour another glass of rose, toast your special occasion (or just each other), and dig in!