I am all for dining out on special occasions but, after years of slinging over-priced prix fixe menus during my restaurant days, I relish the opportunity to cook Valentine's dinner at home. Spending time with your special person in the kitchen is the perfect opportunity to connect. Source a few unique ingredients, grab a nice bottle of wine, light some candles, put on some tunes, and you're in business.
The key to a romantic dinner at home is to keep things simple. You don't want to be too overambitious and make things stressful or complex. You also don't want to spend hours working away and end up too tired to enjoy a leisurely meal, unable to savor the fruits of your labor. If your partner is not too handy in the kitchen, give them simple tasks that are fail-safe, such as making sure drinks are flowing, vegetables are peeled and prepped, and salad greens are washed and well dried.
My husband and I always make a pasta for our Valentine's Day meal. Not to sound overly "crunchy", but pasta is somewhat of an indulgence for us, as it should be for most people. So, a pasta-focused meal always feels special. I source my pasta from Sfoglini, a Brooklyn-based artisanal purveyor that uses high end organic flours. They also have a beautiful assortment of rotating seasonal flavors, like the beet fusilli featured here.
The focal point of this Vday meal is a caramelized onion, anchovy, and swiss chard pasta, which was inspired by my pasta loving friend Joy from Three Chairs. Garlic, onion, chili flakes, swiss chard, homemade bread crumbs, and anchovy meld together to create the perfect seamless dish. Want a vegan version? Lose the anchovies and add in some capers for that salty umami flavor. Want a gluten-free version? Sub in your favorite gluten-free bread to make the bread crumbs, and use brown rice, quinoa, or bean pasta.
Start your romantic meal with an antipasto salad loaded with color and flavor. As for dessert, opt for healthified peanut butter and jelly chocolate truffles that are made with dates, dried cherries, peanut butter, and cacao.
There's a reason why chocolate is always in heavy rotation on Valentine's Day. It is a stimulant and is considered by some to be an aphrodisiac, perfect for closing out your romantic meal. Chocolate and cocoa contain phenylethylamine and theobromine, which promote the release of brain chemicals that make you feel good and happy!
serves 2 to 3
1 cup chickpeas, cooked
1 tablespoon avocado or coconut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons za'atar
2 cups hearts of romaine, chopped
1 small head of radicchio, leaves separated and chopped
1/4 cup pepperoncini, peppadews, or roasted red bell peppers, chopped
1/4 of a small red onion, chopped or thinly sliced
1/4 cup pitted castelvetrano olives, sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, optional
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
To make the crispy chickpeas, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Place cooked chickpeas on sheet try and toss with 1 tablespoon avocado or coconut oil and za'atar. Coat chickpeas with spice and oil and roast until crispy, about 25 to 30 minutes. Check and toss every 10 minutes.
While the chickpeas cook, make the salad dressing. In a large bowl whisk together the garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Dip a lettuce leaf in the dressing to taste. Adjust, if needed.
Add the romaine, radicchio, peppers, red onion, and olives to the dressing. Toss to combine. Finish with crispy chickpeas, peanuts, and grated parm.
Beet Fusilli with Caramelized Onion and Swiss Chard
recipe barely adapted from the New York Times
Serves 2 to 3
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 anchovy fillets
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
⅔ cup whole grain bread crumbs (To make your own - toast 2 pieces of bread, I use She Wolf Bakery Sprouted Rye, and pulse in a food processor.)
1 yellow onion, halved from stem to root and thinly sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
1 pound Swiss chard, ribs separated, leaves and stems chopped
½ pound beet fusilli, whole grain, or gluten-free fusilli
In a dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 3 anchovies to the pan and cook until melted, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute. Add the bread crumbs and toast until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl.
Wipe the pan clean and return to a medium-high heat. Warm two tablespoons olive oil, add the onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Chop the remaining 2 anchovies and add them to the pan with 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook until anchovies are melted. Add the Swiss chard, a handful at a time, and cook until wilted, about 4 minutes. Cover and keep warm.
While the onions are caramelizing, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Before draining pasta, reserve 1/4 cup the pasta water. Drain. Add 2 tbsps of pasta water to the chard onion mixture and continue to cook for another minute. Add pasta to pot and toss well to combine. Transfer to plates and top with bread crumbs and an additional drizzle of olive oil.
peanut butter + jelly truffles
makes 15 truffles
3/4 cup crunchy or smooth unsalted peanut butter
8 dates, pitted
1/4 cup dried unsweetened cherries
3 tablespoons unsweetened cacao powder
1 tablespoon cacao nibs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon maca (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
Hemp seeds, sesame seeds, coconut flakes, cacao powder, pomegranate powder, or matcha powder for rolling
Combine the peanut butter, dates, cherries, cacao powder, cacao nibs, cinnamon, maca, and salt in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is sticky and a tad crumbly. Using your hands, roll the date mixture into tablespoon sized balls. Roll each ball in toppings of your choice. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Alternatively, drink your dessert and make this spiked hazelnut hot chocolate.