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Five romantic recipes to try at home tonight and beyond


I sort of love Valentine’s Day, which I acknowledge is a little ridiculous as a day on the calendar. But I find its retro sweetness irresistible, especially when it’s done right, with French toast, strong cocktails, fudgy desserts and homemade Valentines.

I don’t yet know what I’m making this year. What I do know is that it doesn’t have to be expensive or take a lot of time. It just needs to be tailored to the one(s) you love, and what they love. Does that mean nachos? French-bread pizza? Stuffed shells? Tacos al pastor? Bulgogi? Buttermilk roast chicken? Coconut curry fish? I think one of the best dinners for two is prawn cocktail with a big salad and a baguette on the side. Do not forget drinks.

Thai curry risotto with squash and green beans

A wonderful weeknight dinner option, baked risotto requires minimal effort and can quickly feed a hungry family. Curry paste is the star here, effortlessly lending lots of flavour. Roasted squash brings a hearty sweetness, while the green beans deliver crunch and bite. You can be flexible with the vegetables: roasted sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower would work equally well, or stir a big handful of spinach or kale through at the final stages before serving. This recipe yields quite a bit, so refrigerate leftovers for up to two days and reheat with more stock. You could also repurpose risotto into rice balls reminiscent of arancini: simply form into balls, coat in breadcrumbs and shallow fry until crispy.

Serves: 6 to 8

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

675g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper

2 shallots, finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 (2.5cm) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped

440g Arborio rice

115g Thai red or green curry paste

1L vegetable stock

225g green beans, trimmed

1 (400ml) tin coconut milk

4 makrut lime leaves, thinly sliced (optional)

1 lime, halved

Handful coriander, mint, basil or Thai basil leaves

Method:

1. Position oven racks so that a baking tray and casserole dish can fit at the same time and heat oven to 200C. Add the squash pieces to a rimmed sheet pan, add 2 tablespoons oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss and roast until the squash is tender and starting to turn golden, 20 minutes.

2. As squash roasts, heat a large casserole dish over medium. Add 2 tablespoons oil and the shallots, and cook until they’ve softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until well coated in oil and lightly toasted, 2 minutes. Add the curry paste and stir until fragrant, 1 minute. Add vegetable stock, increase heat to high and bring to boil.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 180C. Stir the rice so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover with a lid and bake until the rice is just slightly underdone, about 10 minutes.

4. As risotto cooks, check the squash. After 20 minutes, it should be just tender. Add the green beans to the same pan, drizzle the beans with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and season with salt and pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until the beans are crisp-tender but still bright green, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Once rice is al dente, move the pot to the stovetop and heat over medium-high. Add the coconut milk and makrut lime leaves, if using, and stir until the rice is creamy, about 3 minutes.

6. Turn off the heat and add juice of ½ lime (slice the other half into wedges). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with lime wedges, and top with herbs and roasted vegetables.

Steak with ginger butter sauce

An astonishingly good recipe for steak

(Getty/iStock)

An astonishingly good recipe for steak with butter, ginger and soy that Mark Bittman picked up from New York chef Jean Georges Vongerichten. It’s simple and takes no time to make after work.

Serves: 4

Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

450-675g boneless top blade, sirloin or rib-eye, cut into 2 or 4 steaks 2cm thick or less

1½ tbsp butter

1 tbsp minced ginger

2 tbsp soy sauce

Method:

1. Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the steaks, and cook until nicely browned, 1 or 2 minutes. Turn, and brown the second side, another minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and the steaks to a plate.

2. When the pan has cooled enough so that no smoke is rising, return it to medium heat. Add butter, and when it melts, add ginger. About 30 seconds later, add soy sauce and stir to blend. Return steaks to the pan, along with any accumulated juices. Turn heat to medium, and cook the steaks a total of 4 minutes, turning 3 or 4 times (if pan juices dry out, add a couple of tablespoons of water). At this point, they will be medium-rare; cook a little longer if you like, and serve, with pan juices spooned over.

Pasta alla vodka

There’s no need to order a takeaway when you can get this easy classic on the table in no time

(Getty/iStock)

There’s no need to order takeout from your neighborhood restaurant when this beloved, easy-to-assemble Italian-American classic gets dinner on the table in no time. Adding pancetta brings a salty smokiness, but if you leave it out, you’re still in for a quick and flavourful dish. If you’re feeling ambitious, the pasta is delightful with caesar salad or garlic bread, but it’s also satisfying enough to take centre stage. Put on some Puccini, open up a bottle of red and you’re guaranteed a more relaxed dining experience than the one you might get at the local red-and-white checkered-tablecloth joint.

Serves: 4 to 6

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Salt

450g rigatoni or penne pasta

2 tbsp olive oil

115g diced pancetta, optional

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ tsp red-pepper flakes

180ml vodka

1 (800g) jar crushed tomatoes

Freshly ground black pepper

180ml double cream

Grated grana padano or parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh oregano

2 tbsp roughly chopped Italian parsley

Method:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (2 heaping tablespoons salt to about 7 quarts water). Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: heat the oil in a deep 30cm frying pan or pot over medium. Add the pancetta, if using, and fry until crispy, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-low, add the vodka and cook until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and then fill the can halfway with water and swish it around to loosen up any leftover tomatoes; add a quarter to half of the water to the pan. Simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. If you prefer your sauce a little looser, go ahead and add the remaining water and simmer 2 to 3 minutes more. Reduce heat to low, add the cream and cook, stirring, until the sauce becomes an even pinkish-rust colour, about 1 minute.

4. Stir in the cooked pasta and cheese; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls, top with additional cheese, if desired, and sprinkle with the oregano and parsley.

Pork chops in lemon-caper sauce

Smothered pork chops made into something glorious and elegant

(Getty)

Here’s my favourite recipe in Toni Tipton-Martin’s excellent and invaluable Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking (2019). It’s a remix of one that the chef Nathaniel Burton collected into his 1978 opus, Creole Feast: Fifteen Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets, and one that Tipton-Martin glossed-up with lemon zest, juice and extra butter, a technique she learned from restaurateur B Smith’s 2009 collection of recipes, B Smith Cooks Southern-Style. It’s a dish of smothered pork chops, essentially, made into something glorious and elegant. “The food history of blacks in America has been a story of the food of survival,” she told me in an interview. “We need to start celebrating the food they made at work.” – Sam Sifton

Serves: 4

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

4 bone-in pork chops (about 225g each)

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

½ tsp dried thyme leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 very small shallot, minced (about 1 tbsp)

2 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tsp)

2 tsp all-purpose flour

240ml dry white wine

350ml chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium, if shop-bought

2 tbsp drained capers

2 tbsp minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest, plus 2 tbsp juice

Hot sauce (optional)

Method:

1. Dry the chops with paper towels, and season aggressively with salt, pepper and the thyme. Swirl the olive oil into a large frying pan, and heat over medium until the oil begins to shimmer. Add chops, and cook until well browned on each side and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate, and cover to keep warm.

2. Drain the fat from the pan, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat until sizzling. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté until the aromatics soften, reducing the heat if necessary, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the wine and chicken stock, raise heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the capers, parsley, lemon zest and juice and hot sauce to taste (if you’re using it), and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until it’s melted and the sauce looks smooth. Nestle the pork chops into the sauce, and allow them to warm up for a couple of minutes, then serve, pouring sauce over each pork chop to taste. Garnish with more fresh parsley.

Prawn stew for two

This brothy wonder will delight and nourish

(Getty/iStock)

A stew should be as comforting to cook as it is to eat. In this effortless one-pot meal, a spicy, aromatic broth is tinged red with gochugaru, a Korean red-pepper powder. You want to use jumbo prawns for this; be sure to get shell-on crustaceans (and head-on if you can), as they’re essential to flavouring this simple dish with their incredible nuttiness. Bitter greens and sweet radishes add vegetal heft as well as complexity to the broth, which you should definitely sop up with bread or rice. If seafood dishes like bouillabaisse, cioppino and maeuntang excite you, then this brothy wonder will delight and nourish.

Serves: 2

Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise

Salt and black pepper

4 large garlic cloves, finely grated

1 (2.5cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp gochugaru, plus more to taste (see tip)

225g broccoli raab, Tuscan kale or other sturdy bitter greens, coarsely chopped

8 to 10 shell-on jumbo prawns or 4 tiger prawns, preferably head-on, deveined (about 225g)

170g radishes, thinly sliced

1 tbsp fish sauce, plus more to taste

Pinch of granulated sugar, plus more to taste

Toasted crusty bread or steamed white rice, for serving

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a large casserole dish or deep frying pan over medium-high. Add half of the shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and starting to brown at the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

2. Add the olive oil and gochugaru, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Raise the heat to high and add 2 cups water. Scrape the stuck-on bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, and bring the broth to a boil.

3. Add the broccoli raab and nestle in the prawns. Reduce the heat and gently simmer the prawns, turning them once halfway through, until pink and just barely cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. The broccoli raab should be bright green and considerably wilted.

4. Stir in the remaining shallots, the radishes, fish sauce and sugar. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, gochugaru, fish sauce or sugar as needed.

5. Serve the stew in wide bowls with a plate on the side for the prawn shells, and some crusty bread or steamed rice for sopping up the aromatic juices.

Tips: Jewel-red gochugaru, a Korean red-pepper powder, has a mild, sweet heat that tastes fruity and fragrant once cooked in fat or added to burbling stews like this one. It comes in coarse and fine textures, and spiciness varies from brand to brand. You can find gochugaru at many grocery stores, but especially in Korean and other Asian supermarkets, as well as online. It sometimes comes in larger bags, which is not a problem because it freezes beautifully and tastes great sprinkled over just about anything.

© The New York Times

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