By Jane Morgan
Happy February! This month, I’m back with two simple recipes that are great for a Valentine’s Day dinner in, and any other day you might need a little pick-me-up or want to impress someone with a dinner that is easy to make and truly delicious.
Cooking should feel stress-free, and this dinner epitomizes that. It’s elegant, comforting, inexpensive, and the perfect meal to share with your loved ones. Oh, and I don’t think anyone would complain if you paired it with some garlic bread. There’s nothing more romantic to me than being comfortable enough with someone to have garlicky breath together.
HERBY SALAD WITH A LEMON DIJON VINAIGRETTE
I make this salad for myself, for friends, or for clients at least twice a week. It goes with everything, takes less than five minutes to put together, and has enough acidity and brightness to balance any rich or heavy food you’re pairing it with. You can use any kind of lettuce, herbs or vegetables you have on hand or prefer, but this is how I think it tastes best. Try your best to get high-quality lettuce for this—it really does make a difference with a salad this simple.
8 cups of the lettuce of your choice (I love a mix of romaine and arugula, or little gems and iceberg, but really anything would be perfect here.)
1/2 medium red onion or 1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 cups mixed chopped herbs (my favorite for this is a mix of dill, parsley, and chives)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 radishes, thinly sliced (optional)
Flaky salt, for finishing (optional)
- Prep your ingredients. Wash and dry the lettuce and herbs. Tear the lettuce into bite-size pieces or roughly chop it. Roughly chop the herbs. Thinly slice the radishes and red onion.
- In a big mixing or serving bowl, toss the lettuce, herbs, onion and radishes until mixed.
- In a small bowl, combine the juice of one lemon, the olive oil and the Dijon, and whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper and adjust to taste.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and mix until evenly distributed. Top with flaky sea salt and more cracked pepper, and enjoy!
SPICY RIGATONI ALLA VODKA
This pasta is the ultimate low effort, high reward recipe. I’ve been making different vodka sauce recipes for years, but this one has a little extra kick that makes it really special and cuts through the creaminess. It has the velvetiest texture, and is easy enough that anyone can make it, but tastes elevated enough to impress anyone. It’s a great pasta to have in your arsenal. This recipe makes four servings. It’s excellent for leftovers the next day or eaten over the course of your favorite Nancy Meyers movie.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, well smashed
1 tube of tomato paste
3/4 tablespoon red pepper flakes (If you want less spice, use 1/2 tablespoon, or use closer to 1 tablespoon if you want it extra spicy.)
2 tablespoons vodka (to deglaze the pan)
1 pound rigatoni, or your other favorite pasta shape
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated parmesan, plus more for serving
Basil for serving
- Prep your ingredients. Chop the onion, grate or microplane the parmesan, and smash the garlic.
- Set a pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and onions, season with salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they soften and take on a bit of color.
- Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water, and set a timer for al dente, or the lower end of the time range on the box. Reserve a cup of pasta water, and drain.
- When the onions and garlic are starting to brown, add the red pepper flakes and tomato paste. Sauté, stirring often, until the paste has darkened and is browning on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the vodka and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until the vodka has reduced and evaporated.
- Turn the heat to low, and slowly add the heavy cream, stirring constantly to incorporate. Season with salt.
- Add the cooked pasta, 1/2–3/4 cup of the pasta water, and parmesan. Stir until it is well-coated and the sauce is super glossy and velvety, adding more pasta water if needed.
- Taste for seasoning, and top with more red pepper flakes, parmesan, and basil. Enjoy!
Jane Morgan is a personal chef, caterer, recipe developer and writer from Destin currently living in Brooklyn. You can see more of her recipes on Instagram @janecooksforyou. And sign up for her newsletter at janedeanmorgan.com/newsletter.