Donatella Arpaia Talks Valentine’s Day

The powerhouse chef and mother shares her tips and recipes for a romantic night
Serve a strawberry semifreddo for your Valentine's Day date.

Donatella Arpaia’s story from attorney to chef is quite an interesting one—but she’s been insanely successful since she decided to take a leap from one world to another.

Arpaia, a tremendous name in food has been a judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, but off camera As mother of one and a New York restaurateur who has opened 10 restaurants including Donatella, DBar, and Kefi, she juggles a whole lot, but she still makes an effort to make time to make things special when it comes to spending time with her husband.

Arpaia’s love for all things culinary can be credited to her Italian upbringing. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Donatella is revealing her tips and tricks for setting the perfect romantic evening.

Donatella’s Valentine’s Day Tips:

• Bubbly sets the mood
The ideal libation for a romantic occasion always includes a little bubbly. I’m loving the new trend of  sparkling wine mini bottles or cocktails made with MARTINI Prosecco, Rosé, Asti or Moscato d’Asti are always perfect for a special and personal evening.

• Create a signature cocktail
When creating a festive cocktail for the evening the magic is often in the garnish! Sparkling wine like MARTINI Asti with a touch of cranberry juice for color and sugared, skewered cranberries makes for a beautiful presentation.

• Make creative center pieces
Setting the mood and ambiance are just as important as planning and preparing the dishes.   Instead of the obvious red or pink, I like to use a sophisticated combination of red and white with hints of gold or silver. Lighting is also a big factor in setting the tone for the evening, Intersperse mercury glass votive candles for a beautiful, dimmed glow.

• Personalize the evening
There’s nothing more romantic than taking the extra time to do something special for your loved one. For a creative touch, I like to add a personal note around a mini bottle of MARTINI sparkling wine with phrases like “I love you” or “be mine”. Think of it as the adult version of the Valentine’s Day heart candies!  Just simply tie a tag around the bottle and add the phrase of your choice!

• Prepare an intimate meal
Nothing says “I love you” like a home-cooked meal.

As for what to serve? Check out Arpaia's Menu: 

Strawberry Semifreddo
Nutella Hot Chocolate
White Chocolate Risotto
Prosecco Floats
Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

 click through for recipes!

Strawberry Semifreddo

  • 4 cups strawberries, hulled, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Tuaca or Grand Marnier, optional
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh mint, cut in thin strips, for garnish (optional)

Line an 8” or 9” x 5” x 3” load pan, if using, with plastic wrap and set aside.

Combine the strawberries, sugar, and Tuaca in bowl of a food processor and puree. Reserve 1 cup. Pour the remaining puree into a large bowl. Whip the cream in another bowl using an electric mixer until soft peaks form when you lift the beaters out of the bowl. Fold the cream into the puree using a rubber spatula, working from the bottom of the bowl, until there are no signs of cream. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Invert the semifreddo onto a serving plate. Remove the plastic wrap and, when slightly softened, smooth the top with a knife. Cut into ¾”-to 1”-thick slices and garnish with the strawberries, mint, and some of the reserved puree drizzled on top.

Nutella Hot Chocolate

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I recommend Valrhona)
  • ½ cup Nutella
  • Gourmet marshmallows, toasted if desired

Combine the milk and half-and-half in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and Nutella. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the ingredients are thoroughly combined.  Cover to keep hot. If using marshmallows (and you should!), toast them one at a time over a gas flame, turning until all sides are golden brown. Pour the hot chocolate into small coffee mugs, top with marshmallows, and server hot.

Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 8-ounces top-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar or edible gold dust, for dusting
  • Mint leaves, for garnish
  • 1 pint lemon, orange or grapefruit sorbet

Preheat the oven to 325◦F. Coat an 8” springform pan with butter.

Put the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan one-quarter full of water.  Melt the chocolate over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula.  Alternatively, put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave on medium power.

Meanwhile, combine the butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition.  Add the melted chocolate and beat until combined.  Add the flour and mix until just incorporated (don’t overbeat!). Pour the batter into the pan and bake until the top forms a thin crust, 35 to 40 minutes.  Cool the cake in the pan on a rack.  When completely cooled, remove the sides from the pan, then use a long spatula to loosen cake from the pan bottom and slide onto a cake plate or stand.  Dust the confectioners’ sugar by tapping the sugar through a fine-mesh sieve. Garnish with the mint leaves and serve with a scoop of sorbet.

White Chocolate Risotto

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, chopped plus some shards
  • 1 cup assorted dried fruits, chopped
  • ¾-1 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 2 ¼ cups whole milk, warmed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, or ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of ½ orange, removed with a zester or Microplane
  • Pinch of saffron threads

Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat just until it comes to a boil.  Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.  Pour the hot cream over the top.  Let stand for 1 minute, then whisk until smooth.  Cool, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Soak the dried fruits in warm water or the white wine.  Whip the chilled white chocolate cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the rice and cook for about 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add ½ cup of milk, the sugar, vanilla, orange zest, and saffron and stir constantly over medium heat until most of the milk has been absorbed.  Add another ½ cup of milk and stir. Repeat this process until the milk has been absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and fold in the whipped white chocolate cream; the risotto will be the consistency of oatmeal.  Spoon into a bowl or glass. Drain the dried fruits and spoon them on top. Garnish each with a few white chocolate shards.

Prosecco Float

  • Scoop 2 small balls of lemon sorbet into each glass using a melon baller
  • Fill flute within ½ inch of the rim with MARTINI Prosecco
  • Garnish with a lemon twist

Cranberry Sparkler

  • MARTINI Asti
  • Cranberry juice
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 3 Cranberries

Fill a champagne flute with MARTINI Asti sparkling wine. Top with a splash of cranberry juice. Sprinkle sugar over cranberries. Place in glass. Serve and Enjoy!

MARTINI Asti Red Blush

  • 4 ounces MARTINI Asti (chilled)
  • ½ ounce strawberry puree
  • ½ ounce rose syrup

Pour puree and rose syrup into a flute glass and stir well.
Top with MARTINI Asti and garnish with a lemon wheel.


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