I told you all about my Valentine's dinner for Doug and the mayhem that ensued, but never mentioned what he did for me. Actual Valentine's Day started off with a kidnapping of sorts. The instructions were simple: pack a bathing suit, wear sneakers. That's all I knew. We hopped in the car and headed east towards Manhattan. I had recently mentioned the free public pool at the Grace Hotel to Doug and we'd both expressed an interest in visiting sometime, so I was convinced that's where we were headed. No need for a tropical weekend getaway, an indoor pool with a swim-up bar right in the heart of the city could be just as much fun!
When we crossed over the George Washington Bridge and continued onto I95 North, past Manhattan, I was confused. When we crossed the Whitestone Bridge I was utterly dumbfounded. I knew we had to make it back home, shower and change with enough time to make an 8pm dinner reservation (at an undisclosed destination); surely, we couldn't be going much further. I was right, because shortly thereafter we exited the expressway and turned into a residential neighborhood in Queens. At this point, I was positively bewildered! We pulled up to what appeared to be a large hotel, complete with valet parking. The facade read: Spa Castle. A modern day castle (of sorts) resplendent with a multitude of spa offerings...ingenious! I'd never heard of such a place and so my bewilderment continued during check in when we got our "watches" that ended up being waterproof locker keys (brilliant!), through the locker rooms when I changed into my Spa Castle uniform for the day (orange shorts and a pink t-shirt? Stacy London would not approve!) and up the huge spiral staircase that delivered me into a cafeteria where I met up with Doug (after we were relegated to his and hers locker rooms upon entry).
We spent our afternoon sweating in the saunas, cooling off with a cocktail (or 2) and lounging in the heated rooftop pools overlooking the city. It was wonderful and a great way to spend a romantic, relaxing afternoon together. Upon leaving Spa Castle, we realized that our departure was ill-timed (can you blame us for being hesitant to leave?!) and we were faced with NY traffic at rush hour. There was no way we were making it home to NJ to shower and change and then heading back "in this general direction" (the only clue I got about our dinner whereabouts) by 8pm. So Doug called the restaurant and asked if they could accommodate us earlier. They happily obliged and we went straight to dinner. He took me to a fantastic little Italian place on Arthur Avenue. For starters, we split a couple appetizers, one of which was called Asparagus Fiorucci. It was delicious and I immediately knew I needed to attempt to recreate it at home sometime. Below is my interpretation of this lovely dish. The slight crunch of the earthy asparagus blends so perfectly with the creamy cheese, the floral citrus flavor of the lemon zest and the salty prosciutto; it truly is a simple yet elegant appetizer.
Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
adapted from Mario's Restaurant, Bronx NY
1 bunch asparagus (approximately 24 spears)
6 oz Neufchatel cheese (regular cream cheese or Brie make nice substitutions)
12 oz prosciutto (I used President's brand...it came pre-sliced and I found it to be the perfect thickness for wrapping the bundles)
zest of 1/2 a lemon (optional)
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
fresh wedge of parmigiano reggiano cheese
Even with the reduced fat cream cheese, these are NOT diet friendly, but they are SO worth the splurge!
Per bundle: Calories: 226 Fat: 14g Carbohydrate: 5g Protein: 21g Fiber: 1g
Preheat toaster oven to 400 degrees. Place your cleaned asparagus in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Zest your lemon on top of the seasoned asparagus and toss well to coat.
Place a slice of cheese (approx. 1 oz.) centered on top of a small bundle of asparagus (I used 4 spears). Tightly wrap a slice of prosciutto around the asparagus and cheese. Repeat with a second slice of prosciutto (if desired).
Arrange bundles on a lined toaster oven baking sheet and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 400, covered, for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the aluminum foil and allow bundles to continue baking, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes. Remove the bundles from the toaster oven, shave parmigiano reggiano cheese onto the tops of the hot asparagus bundles and allow to melt slightly. Serve immediately.