By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student
February is a stressful month for a lot of people out there—for single folks, there’s a lot of pressure to impress dates, and for married folks, there’s a lot of pressure to put enough thought into the day. But if you’re a culinary school student on a budget with a busy schedule, how do you put together a memorable Valentine’s Day?
Look no further! Below is a three course Italian(ish) meal that will impress your date without driving you around the bend with expensive ingredients, time-consuming processes, or a la minute prep techniques. It begins with a caprese salad, a delicious meal requiring no heat and minimal time, followed by a Lady and the Tramp inspired spaghetti and meatballs, and a panna cotta with a strawberry coulis (both of which you can make a day ahead of time) for dessert.
You can pair these meals with just about anything, but I have a few recommendations if you and your date happen to be beer people.
I recommend pairing this course with something crisp like a lighter lager like Shift from New Belgium or Polestar from Left Hand.
For the dressing:
1 oz balsamic vinegar
4 oz oil
1 t honey mustard
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the Salad:
Whole basil leaves
Fresh tomatoes (heirloom if you can find them)
Mozzarella (the kind that comes in the tube with the brine, not the kind you’d shred to put on a pizza)
Although this recipe is first in this article, this is the last thing you’re going to do for your Valentine’s Day meal, preferably while your date is in your home so he or she can be impressed with your skills.
1. Slice the tomatoes and mozz into bite-sized wedges. Try to keep them sharp so that they form spikes on the plate.
2. Wash and dry your spinach and basil. Try to keep a 4:1 ratio of spinach to basil—some herbs will be left over, but that’s okay because you can use it for your main.
3. Place your honey mustard in the bottom of a large stainless steel bowl and whisk in your vinegar. Then, with a spouted measuring cup, drizzle the oil into the mustard/vinegar, whisking vigorously the entire time. You’re trying to make an emulsion, so really beat the heck out of this vinaigrette.
4. Arrange the tomatoes, mozz, and greens on a chilled salad plate in a decorative way, then drizzle the dressing over top, leaving little gobs on the plate here and there. Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper over the top to taste, and serve with a chilled fork.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
I would go with a malty brown for this one, something that tastes bready like Fat Tire, or Ellie’s Brown from Avery.
For the Pasta:
1 box angel hair pasta
2 standard cans of fire roasted tomatoes (about 32 oz)
1 small can of tomato paste (about 8 oz)
1 bunch of fresh basil leaves (whatever is leftover from the caprese)
1 medium onion
8 cloves of garlic (adjust depending on how much you like garlic)
6 oz of your favorite white wine (yes, white)
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the meatballs:
1 lb 70/30 ground pork
6 oz ricotta cheese
2 oz parmesean
Flour for dusting
1. Put your water on to boil. Salt it enough that it tastes like seawater.
2. Buzz your tomatoes, paste, herbs, onion, and garlic in your blender, starting on slow and working your way up to puree. Transfer to a large sauce pan and set on medium/low.
3. Add the wine to your blender, put the top on, and swish around to rinse out all the goodness that’s still stuck to your blender. Mix this into your sauce.
4. Stick a wooden spoon into your sauce, put the top on to prevent splatters, and let simmer for at least 45 minutes. You can do this all day if you like, reconstituting your sauce with stock as it dehydrates, but only if you have the time.
5. As that is simmering, place all the ingredients for your meatballs into a food processor and process until it is a complete paste.
6. Let sit in your fridge for a half hour, and then form into 2-4 oz balls (about the size of your palm—use your judgment).
7. Once the balls are all formed, dust them in flour and fry in light oil until brown on the outside. Do this in batches to prevent your pan from losing its heat. Once they are all browned, gently place them in the sauce to cook for about a half hour.
8. Boil and strain your pasta. Set it in your (now empty) boil pot, mix in a ladel or two of your sauce, and you’re good to go. Heat it up twenty minutes before dinner on low, place in the center of a plate, spoon on some extra sauce, and add 2-3 meatballs, and garnish with some extra parmesean. Your Lady and the Tramp moment is good to go!
Fruity Panna Cotta
The sky’s the limit with a fruit beer like this, but I would go with a Belgian if you can get your hands on it. Upslope’s Belgian style pale ale pairs with fruit rather nicely.
For the panna cotta:
1/3 cup skim milk
¼ oz gelatin (unflavored)
2.5 cups heavy cream
½ cup white sugar
1 T vanilla extract
For the coulis:
6 oz strawberries
2 oz white wine
1 oz granulated sugar
Fresh blueberries for garnish
1. Bloom the gelatin in the skim milk in a large bowl. This will take about fifteen minutes.
2. Combine the cream and sugar and bring to a boil. Pour over the bloomed gelatin and whisk until dissolved. Stir in the vanilla.
3. The next stage is up to you. If you have silicone molds, fill them with the hot panna cotta mix. If you don’t, I recommend filling martini glasses with the mix. You can also fill highball glasses, or bowls, or whatever you like. The possibilities are endless.
4. For the coulis (sauce), chop the strawberries into small pieces and place in a small sauce pan with the sugar and white wine. Cook until the strawberries become soft, then gently mash with the back of a spoon or a potato masher.
5. If you prefer your sauce chunky, you’re done at this point. I would strain this in a fine mesh strainer, but that’s my preference in presentation.
6. Sprinkle any fresh fruit over the top of the set panna cotta and then drizzle with the coulis. I recommend doing this a day or two before Valentine’s day to reduce your stress, but that’s me.
So that’s your Valentine’s Day dinner. I’m not going to guarantee anything as a result of this meal, other than your date will be impressed with your abilities in the kitchen. Enjoy!