The perfect romantic meal should be easy to prepare, easy to clean up, and not so filling that you’re too weighed down to enjoy other, uh, activities. A steak dinner is never unwelcome, but it’s a bit heavy, and you don’t want to smoke up the house or fret about overcooking a rib eye. Luckily, there a bunch of dishes you can make to wow your sweetie, even if you’re not quite Top Chef Material.
According to the most romantic movie of all time—Lady and the Tramp—spaghetti is the perfect date night food. When dressed up with a delicious homemade sauce, dried pasta becomes a thoughtful, comforting meal. Best of all, sauce is super easy to make.
- One-Pot Pasta: Featured in the video above, this streamlined pasta dish from Martha Stewart can be prepared in about twenty minutes in a single vessel. Just place dried pasta in a high-walled saucepan or Dutch oven, along with halved cherry tomatoes, basil, sliced onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Pour in enough water to just cover everything, bring it to a simmer, and cook, stirring it around with tongs every five minutes or so, until the pasta is al dente.
- Cacio e Pepe: This minimalist recipe is overwhelmingly greater than the sum of its parts. This recipe from Bon Appetit has all the tasty details, but it’s so easy you can almost wing it. Just boil some spaghetti, removing it from the pot a couple of minutes before it’s fully done and reserve ¾ cups of the cooking water. Melt a few tablespoons of butter, grind some fresh pepper into the pan, and get it all toasty. Pour a ½ cup of the pasta water over the pepper and bring it to a simmer. Return the pasta to the pot, along with a little more butter and grated Parmesan, and toss with tongs to let everyone get to know each other. Once the cheese is all nice and melted, top with more fresh pepper and serve.
- Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce: This three-ingredient sauce is almost magical in how easy and delicious it is. Dump a 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes in a pot along with five tablespoons of butter and a peeled, halved onion. Bring everything to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring every once in awhile and mashing the tomatoes with a spoon. The stewed onion will flavor the sauce in a sweet and subtle way. Just don’t forget to remove it before serving.
Serve with a simple green salad—you can whip up an easy vinaigrette using this graphic—and some garlic bread, and you’re good to go.
Perfectly Curated Cheese and Charcuterie
There is literally nothing easier than unwrapping some cheese and plunking it down on a tray but, by paying just a bit of attention to presentation, a plate of fancy cheese and charcuterie can feel quite special. To make a beautiful, balanced plate of delicious finger foods, you’ll need something from each of the below categories:
- Something Soft and Buttery: Camembert, Brie, and taleggio are all good options.
- Something Sharp: Grab a super-sharp cheddar or a crumbly, aged gouda, and make sure to provide some apple slices.
- Something Funky: Not all blue cheeses are created equal. Bypass the pre-crumbled stuff and grab a wedge of Roquefort, Stilton or Gorgonzola. (I’m really into Cambozola right now.)
- A Salty Meat: Unless you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to round out all of that dairy with something cured. Serious Eats has a great roundup of fancy salami, but you can’t go wrong with prosciutto, mortadella (with pistachios), or—if you’re not into pork—bresaola.
- Something Sweet: A bit of honey, quince paste, or fig preserves provides a nice, sweet counterbalance to salty, funky cheeses.
- Something Crunchy: Besides serving as a tasty delivery system, crackers, crostini, and breadsticks provide a bit of needed texture. Toasted nuts are also a good, crunchy, option. (Bonus points if you snag some Marcona almonds.)
- Fruit: Apples, pears, and grapes keep everything from getting too rich, and there’s something undeniable sexy about a bunch of juicy grapes.
Place everything out on a big, wood cutting board, along with little knives, spreaders, and little spoons for honey or preserves, and go to town.
Oysters may seem a little intimidating but once you know how to shuck ‘em, they’re a super easy, no-cook meal. You don’t even need any special equipment, just a kitchen towel and a common pairing knife. The above video can give you a good visual of the process, but you’ll want to do is fold a towel over the bivalve (to stabilize the oyster and protect your hand) and wiggle the thin blade of the knife in the front crack, severing the adductor muscle. It’ll pop open with ease, leaving you free to focus on whipping up a mignonette.
This simple mignonette is a good starting point, and only requires a few ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons Champagne vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
- Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Whisk everything together, and let it sit for half an hour or so to let the flavors meld. If you want to mix it up and get real interesting, you can stir in a couple of tablespoons of booze—Campari is an excellent choice here—or freeze up a fancy, flavorful granita. Just grab some sort of flavorful liquid like Campari, some fresh herbs, and a little salt and pepper. Pop your tasty mixture in the freezer and, once it’s frozen, scrape it into shards with a fork. Scoop the little ice crystals onto your expertly-shucked oysters, and marvel at how fancy you are.
The Easiest Fondue
Traditional fondue can be a little fussy, and you’re limited to cheeses that won’t break into greasy messes when heated. Luckily, through the magic of sodium citrate, you can turn almost any cheese (or mixture of cheeses) into a luscious dip. You can make this cheesy dream a reality with the help of an immersion circulator or you can also do it on the stove top. You will need:
- 8 ounces of your favorite cheese, sliced thin
- ½-1 teaspoon of sodium citrate
- ½ cup of liquid (Water works, but I would use beer, sherry, or wine.)
Add ½ a teaspoon sodium citrate and your liquid of choice to a sauce pan and bring it to a simmer. Add your cheese and stir until everything is melted. If things are clumpy rather than saucy, add a little more sodium citrate until it loosens up. Serve with bread cubes, raw carrots, apples slices, tiny roasted potatoes, and anything else you’d like to dip into some cheese.
No matter which meal you make, remember that it’s the thought that counts, and your Valentine will feel loved no matter how the food tastes (well, within reason). Pro-tip: buy a really good bottle of wine to distract from any culinary shortcomings. Wine always helps.