VSLooking for someone is always an act of love. It takes time and eating together is an intimate activity. Whether you cook a meal from scratch every night or just on a special occasion, I hope the connection between food and love is one you feel. This week’s dishes work as well as an all-out feast for February 14 – happy Valentine’s Day! – as they individually do any day of the week or year.
Butternut squash with currants, olives and ricotta (pictured above)
I like the sweet and sour balance here. It works both as a description of the dish itself, which draws on the flavors of Italian caponata, and as a metaphor for relationships. Make it a day ahead, if you like: the flavors only get better with time. For a gluten-free option, substitute the bread for lettuce cups or something similar to a spoon.
Preperation 25 minutes
to cook 25 minutes
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small red onionpeeled and finely chopped (120g)
1½ teaspoon tomato paste
4 garlic clovespeeled and crushed
2½ teaspoons maple syrup
350g butternut squash (about a third of a medium), peeled and cut into 1-1½cm cubes (300g)
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
25g dried currants
70g nocellara olivespitted and halved (40g)
25g pine nutswell grilled
1 tablespoon oregano leaves
2 tablespoons basil leavescut into chiffonade strips
Focaccia (store bought), to serve
Put two tablespoons of oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for four minutes, until softened but not browned . Add the tomato paste, garlic, and a teaspoon and a half of maple syrup, and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the squash, half a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper, then reduce the heat to medium and fry, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes, until the squash is tender but retains its shape.
Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it bubbles, remove from the heat, stir in the currants and set aside to swell.
When the squash is ready, stir in the vinegar and blackcurrant mixture, the olives, the remaining teaspoon of maple syrup and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, and cook gently for three more minutes. Let cool slightly – give it at least 15 minutes – then stir in the herbs.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Divide the ricotta mixture between two plates, then top with the warm squash mixture. Drizzle with the last tablespoon of oil and serve warm or at room temperature, with the focaccia to tear, scoop and eat on the side.
Spaghetti and (not) meatballs with fried oregano
The most romantic scene in movie history (Disney) has to go to the Lady and the Tramp, to the right? This is my vegetarian tribute. Optional extra-long spaghetti, for a true sharing experience. You’ll have two spare “meatballs” left over, perfect for a mini meatball sub or snack.
Preperation 35 minutes
to cook 1h15
For the tomato sauce
1 can of 400 g plum tomatoescrushed by hand or with a fork
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakesplus 1 additional teaspoon for the meatballs
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tbsp tomato paste
1½ teaspoon caster sugar
2 cloves garlicpeeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
For the “meatballs”
3½ tablespoons olive oil
1 onionpeeled and finely chopped (180g)
1 small carrotpeeled and finely chopped in a food processor (100g)
3 sprigs of fresh thymepicked to obtain 1 teaspoon of leaves
1 tablespoon oregano leavesfinely chopped
3 cloves of garlicpeeled and crushed
300g chestnut mushroomscoarsely chopped in a food processor
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of pine nutsgrilled and coarsely chopped
65g cooked brown ricecoarsely crushed in a food processor
25g parmesanfinely grated, plus extra for serving
50g panko breadcrumbs
35g parsley leavesfinely chopped
For the crispy oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ tbsp oregano leaves
Heat the oven to 240 C (220 C fan)/475 F/gas 8. Start by preparing the sauce. Put the tomatoes, a teaspoon of Aleppo pepper, oil, tomato paste, sugar, garlic, 200 ml of water, half a teaspoon of salt and a good pepper mill in a medium 20cm x 14cm baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until reduced by about half.
To make the meatballs, put one and a half tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, thyme and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the onion has softened and lightly browned. Add garlic, mushrooms and soy sauce, cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes, until nicely browned, then remove from heat and let cool.
Once the mushroom mixture has cooled, stir in the pine nuts, rice, second tsp Aleppo pepper, 25g Parmesan cheese, egg, breadcrumbs and parsley, and mix well to combine. Divide the mixture into eight pieces of about 60 g, roll them into balls, making sure they are well compacted. Wipe out the skillet, then return it to medium-high heat with the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, fry the meatballs, turning gently, for seven to eight minutes, until evenly browned. Gently transfer the balls to the dish of tomato sauce, flip them gently with a spoon to coat them, then return the dish to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes, to heat the meatballs through.
Meanwhile, prepare the crunchy oregano. Put the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat and when hot, add the oregano leaves and sauté, stirring constantly, for two minutes, until they begin to blacken and brown. to become translucent. Remove from the heat and pour through a sieve placed over a small bowl.
Cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted boiling water for about seven minutes, or according to package directions, then drain, reserving three tablespoons of the cooking water.
Carefully lift the meatballs out of the sauce and transfer them to a plate. Stir the spaghetti and reserved cooking water into the tomato sauce until well coated, then divide between two shallow bowls, top with three meatballs each, then with the crispy oregano and its oil . Sprinkle with additional Parmesan and serve.
Strawberries and vanilla cream with milk chocolate crumble
Although strawberries are associated with love, they are not in season in February, which is why I used frozen here. Nothing prevents you from also keeping the recipe for the summer, to test with fresh and very ripe strawberries.
Preperation 15 minutes
to cook 35 minutes
300g frozen strawberriesthawed
1 limejuice, to make 1½ tsp, and finely grated zest, to make 1 tsp
30g caster sugar
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
¼ teaspoon sumac
60g fresh cream
60 ml fresh cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the cocoa crumble
25g plain flour
2 teaspoons (5g) cocoa powder
4 teaspoons (10 g) powdered milk
25g dark, sweet brown sugar
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
30 g cold unsalted buttercut into 1½ cm cubes
Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3, then start on the crumble. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, powdered milk, sugar and salt to combine, then add the vanilla and butter, and with your fingertips press the butter cubes into the dry ingredients until obtain a coarse crumble. Pour onto a small baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 22 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking to break it up. Remove from the oven, stir again to turn the mixture into a fine crumble, then let cool completely.
Measure 200 g of strawberries, cut them in half (or quarters if they are large) and put them in a bowl. Add the lime juice and 10g caster sugar, stir gently to combine, then refrigerate.
Put the remaining 100g of strawberries in the small bowl of a food processor and blend them gently, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour into a small sauté pan, add the molasses, sumac and another 10 g of sugar, reduce the heat to medium-high and bring to the boil. Once the mixture begins to bubble, lower the heat to medium, cook gently, stirring occasionally, for five to six minutes, until glossy and slightly thickened, then let cool completely.
Place the crème fraîche, double cream, vanilla and remaining 10g sugar in a large bowl and whisk by hand for two or three minutes, until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to serve (you want it cold).
Divide the cream mixture into two small, shallow bowls, then make a well in the center with the back of a spoon. Garnish the cream with the crushed strawberries and stir them lightly. Drain the macerated strawberries of their liquid, then divide them between the two bowls. Finally, sprinkle a good spoonful of crumble, finish with the lime zest and serve with the rest of the crumble to coat according to your taste.