If fighting for a dinner reservation with hordes of hungry lovebirds is low on your list this Valentine’s Day, you might be struggling for date night ideas. But staying in doesn’t have to mean a night on the sofa. Taking the time to cook for – or with – your amore is a time-honoured act of love, just what should you make?
For us there’s only one answer: an Italian-inspired feast for the senses. We’re biased, but lingering over a plate of pasta and a decadent dolce with someone special will always be our dream date. The last thing you want is to spend all of your date in the kitchen though. That’s why we’ve handpicked a three-course menu that’s big on heart, yet low on hassle – leaving you with more time to enjoy your evening.
Aperitivo: Peach Bellini
Start your evening with an authentic dose of Italianità by serving an appetite-awakening aperitivo. A negroni or a spritz is the traditional choice, but for Valentine’s Day we’d look to the winding waterways of Venice for inspiration. Not only an incredibly romantic city, Venice is also the birthplace of the bellini. The now-classic combination of peach and Prosecco first appeared on a menu at Venetian institution Harry’s Bar in 1948, and it’s been a pre-dinner mainstay ever since. Thankfully, it’s also low-effort, requiring only two ingredients and a generous pour.
To accompany your aperitivo, some small-but-satisfying stuzzichini (nibbles) are a good idea. It’s probably best to keep things light so as not to ruin your appetite – small dishes of olives, nuts or cheese are all winning choices.
Starter: Radicchio, Blood Orange and Pecorino Salad
Leave the supermarket roses where they belong and head for your greengrocer, it’s radicchio rosa that’ll actually wow your date. Hailing from the fertile plains of northern Italy, this rose-like leaf is both stunning to look at and very good to eat. With a mellow bitterness, we love to serve it as part of a winter salad alongside segments of blood orange, nuggets of pecorino and a scattering of walnuts.
Again, this salad is very low-maintenance, needing little more than good ingredients, a cobbled-together dressing and some artful assembly. If you can’t find radicchio rosa, regular radicchio works just as well too.
Main: Tagliatelle with ‘Nduja Sausage, Lemon and Mascarpone
After a lighter start to your meal, it’s time for something with more punch. Although our ‘nduja tagliatelle recipe isn’t strictly traditional, it marries ingredients from three different regions to create a dish that’s balanced, saucy and just a little bit lively. First, Calabrian ‘nduja – a spreadable sausage with a fiery kick – which provides heat and smokiness. Next, mascarpone from Lombardy, to mellow the spice and enrich the sauce. Finally, lemon zest, a stalwart of the Amalfi coast, to enliven and lift. To really pull out all the stops, we’d serve this sumptuous sauce with freshly made tagliatelle – but there’s no shame in using dried pasta if you’d prefer to save your pasta-making skills for your next date…
A wine to match: Sangiovese
With plenty of spice, this dish calls for a bold wine that can handle the heat. Look no further than a Tuscan Sangiovese, which has enough acidity and the right amount of tannins to cope with the heat and richness of the ‘nduja.
Dolce: Our Decadent Affogato
We promised that this menu would be low on effort but big on flavour, and we don’t think there’s a more apt dessert than this Italian classic. An affogato – which comes from the Italian for ‘drowned’ – is deceptively simple in its preparation, but still manages to pack in a host of our favourite after-dinner flavours. All you need to do is brew some coffee (ideally in a moka pot or with an espresso machine), then pour over the best vanilla ice cream you can find. Top with a grating of dark chocolate and serve – no baking, no whisking of egg whites and definitely no disasters.
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