The classic heart-shaped confections of Valentine’s Day are above reproach: chalky pastel candies with moony messages, foil-covered chocolate indulgences, ruby-like lollipops in crackling cellophane wrappers. When the shape moves beyond novelty candy and on to the rest of the menu—store-bought, homemade, artfully arranged—the results are less reliable. Some edible demonstrations of sentiment are lovely; others, like the twin bacon-wrapped sausages sold this time of year by a famous British provisioner, veer toward the troubling.
Frying an egg in a heart-shaped mold is slightly troubling, but with potential for loveliness; positioning the yolk in one of the curves rather than in the center is a surprisingly elegant flourish. You could make a heart-shaped omelette by taking two half-moon omelettes and kind of overlapping them—that would be cool. Pancakes are easy to turn into hearts—simply drizzle a heart-shaped outline on the griddle with batter, and fill it in. But making pancakes in any shape communicates love—you hardly need the heart at all. Heart-shaped waffles exist; this, I suppose, is nice for fans of waffles. A pat of butter could be shaped as a heart, but butter is better when it’s a rose. A rose is better when it’s made of chocolate. Chocolate is better when it’s marvellous, or marvellously terrible; mediocre chocolate is worse than no chocolate at all.
Heart-shaped ravioli are joyously ridiculous, as long as the pasta isn’t dyed pink—that might be taking things too far. (Heart-shaped extruded pastas are unspecial, but that’s not always a bad thing, and certainly no reason to avoid them entirely.) Hearts that are made by cutting hearts out of non-heart-shaped foods—brownies, toast, pickle coins, Kraft Singles, deli meat—count for half credit; full points if you also make poignant use of the negative-space heart that remains behind. Heart-shaped cookies are cute, but, unless you have discipline with the temperature of your butter, it can be risky to attempt making them at home, especially if you’re susceptible to the metaphorical implications of setting out to make a heart and ending up with a blob. Things presented, cooked, or served in heart-shaped vessels don’t count as heart-shaped if they lose that form when removed from the dish. No matter how many square and circular chocolate truffles you have in a heart-shaped box, it’s the box that’s heart-shaped, not the sweets. Similarly, a heart-shaped cake is a heart, but a slice of the heart-shaped cake is just a slice of cake.
Setting two poached shrimp face-to-face on a vermillion puddle of cocktail sauce so they suggest a heart is hilarious. Using icing or peanut butter to make a heart by pasting two almonds together side-by-side and point-to-point and then dunking them in chocolate is clever, though the curvaceous result will undeniably resemble a derrière. I would argue that a peach counts as a heart-shaped food. The origins of the heart shape as a symbol of love are unclear, but one theory holds that the inspiration was not the eponymous organ but the curved and tapered shape of a lovely human ass. A peach, obviously, is also an ass; therefore, syllogistically, it is a heart. (So are nectarines, which are just peaches without the fuzz, and which I’ve always thought deserved to be just as much a part of the “it’s a butt” conversation.)
Maybe controversially, I believe that a pizza shaped like a heart is always wonderful, especially when it comes in a standard, square delivery box; the good news is that if you disagree, and you find yourself facing a heart-shaped pizza that fills you with rage, you can always fold it in half and pretend that it’s a plausibly normal-shaped calzone. Heart-shaped salami (sometimes sold as salami d’amour—exquisite) is something I can get behind, because it’s delightful to think of the usual cylinder of meat being molded, as it ages, with the pressure of a single, beautifully efficient, tightened twine. A subset of the heart-shaped salami is the heart-shaped pepperoni, which you can use to adorn a heart-shaped pizza; this might be too much, but also might be fantastic.
Not all heart-shaped meat works: heart-shaped jerky is broadly objectionable, especially when, as pitched in a recent promotional e-mail that I received, the jerky hearts are laser-engraved with slogans that indulge a masculine discomfort with sincerity. It is O.K. to love love and to love jerky and to love using lasers for silly purposes; all of these things help make life worthwhile. And yet, somehow, the end product does not, in this case, stick the landing. Heart-shaped steak (whether from a land, sea, or faux animal) is likewise unsettling. Serving actual heart—the muscle, not the shape—on Valentine’s Day belongs to the same pop-punk school of menu planning as stewing a rabbit on Easter; I honor its subversive intent. It’s a short step from a heart menu to a blood menu, which is less romantic than distressingly melodramatic. You could make a heart-shaped blood sausage for your loved one, but maybe don’t. (Maybe especially don’t use your own blood.)
Like love itself—of any kind, not just romantic—the best heart-shaped foods can’t be forced. The right strawberry, sliced in half, is a perfect heart—red and sweet and tender. A slightly irregular tortilla—a little divot here, a pointy edge there—can glow with love. When a potato chip pulled from a random bag of potato chips turns out to be heart-shaped, that’s the best heart-shaped food of all.