If you're trying to impress someone this Valentine's Day, there's no point pulling out all the stops for a big, impressive dinner. Don't get me wrong, putting a lot of effort into making a delicious meal is a charming way to show your affection, but a dinner doesn't has to reach for Michelin heights. Nothing is going to be less impressive for your date than sitting alone at a table while you plate micro-herbs with tweezers. Except, maybe, being in the kitchen trying in vain to talk to you while getting only half your frazzled attention.
I can't speak for everyone, but I'd be much more impressed with a simple menu that leaves the cook free to spend time with me. And even better than that, a simple meal shows someone that you know how to make good food and be yourself – not just that you know how to spend a whole day trying to be a Heston, Marco or Nigella. Simple food allows you to be yourself, and on Valentine's Day there's no one else you should be trying to be.
Summer tomato and caper pasta
Summer tomatoes are a joy. A simple aglio e olio (garlic and oil) sauce helps bring out their best flavour, and a lick of al dente pasta makes for a perfect summer meal. For best results, eat it outside while watching the sun go down.
• 400g dried spaghetti
• ⅔ cup olive oil
• 1 small red onion, finely diced
• 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• 1 tbsp baby capers
• 350g mixed grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
• ¼ cup white wine
• ½ cup basil leaves, torn
• ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, torn
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti until al dente.
While the spaghetti is cooking, heat another large saucepan over medium heat, add half the olive oil, the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant and starting to brown. Add the capers and fry for about a minute, then add the tomatoes, white wine and remaining oil.
When the spaghetti is al dente, drain well and add to the tomato mixture. Scatter over the herbs. Stir to coat in the oil and tomato mixture, adjust seasoning and serve immediately.
Summer berry and rosé jellies
Makes about 1.2 litres
Nothing says summer like rosé. Match it with some seasonal berries in an easy dessert that you just have to pull out of the fridge, and you won't be leaving your partner drumming their fingers on the table waiting.
• 9 gelatine leaves, soaked in iced water until softened
• 400g sugar • 500ml dry rosé
• juice of 1 lemon, strained of pulp
• 150g raspberries
• 150g strawberries, halved
• 150g blueberries
Combine the sugar, rosé, lemon juice and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Squeeze any excess liquid from the gelatine leaves and add to the saucepan, stirring for a few minutes until the gelatine is completely dissolved.
Place the berries into 6 small jelly moulds or a 1.5 litre jelly mould and pour over the rosé mixture. If using flexible moulds, such as Silpat, make sure they're first placed on baking trays that can fit into your fridge. Refrigerate until completely set, about 2 hours, turn out the jellies and serve.
Food preparation by Breesa Swann. Styling by Hannah Meppem.