For those not in a romantic relationship during Valentine’s Day, ideas like “Galentine’s Day” or eating rich desserts alone are pitched as consolation prizes. But there’s no better time than a cold night in the middle of February to throw a dinner party and celebrate your love of friends, wine and food.
Without the romance factor to muck up the equation, you can dive right into stinky, cheesy, messy, wholly unsexy foods. Guests can wear their favorite athleisure or old T-shirts. Perhaps everyone can dress up date-night-fancy to add a sense of occasion to festivities. There are no rules on “Pal-entine’s” Day.
And since you’re in a group, start with a large format bottle. Pop a magnum of bubbly, like Mongarda NV Col Fondo (Colli Trevigiani), to celebrate that there’s more than two people drinking it. Put out an advanced-level cheese board and cue up your favorite peppy playlist to keep guests happy while you finish preparations for garlic soup, blue cheese and onion gratin, and lamb Bolognese.
Read on for recipes, and feel free to add your own flourishes. This Pal-entine’s Day menu doesn’t include a dessert, because why ruin a fun evening with baking? Instead, cap the night with a new classic combination: chocolate and spirits.
Garlic Bread Soup
This is loosely based on a Basque-style garlic soup, and it’s best eaten when you’re not expecting to kiss anyone. The soup has pretty mellow garlic flavors, balanced by a hint of briny anchovy and chile. Garlic-bread croutons on top add an extra dose of flavor and texture. Serve it with a rosé; it has a liveliness that will cut through the rich soup.
- 2 cups stale bread cubes (½-inch)
- 1 medium head garlic
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon fine-chopped parsley
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan
- 1 anchovy fillet
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 dried ancho chile
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- Smoked paprika, to taste
Heat oven to 450°F. Spread 1 cup bread cubes on baking sheet. Peel and finely chop 2 cloves garlic. Combine with melted butter and parsley, and brush mixture on bread cubes. Sprinkle salt and Parmesan on top. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, peel remaining garlic. Using mortar and pestle, or fork and small bowl, add anchovy and mash together with garlic. Over medium heat, warm oil in medium, heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven. Add garlic mixture, whole chile and remaining untoasted bread, and stir to combine. Cook until bread just starts to turn golden, 5–7 minutes. Add chicken stock, and simmer 20–30 minutes. Remove chile, and season to taste with salt and paprika. Distribute among 4 bowls. Garnish with garlic bread croutons. Serves 4.
ONX 2016 Indie Rosé (Paso Robles); $22, 91 points. This ultrafresh and fruity rosé will cut through the creamy garlic flavors of the soup. Ripe strawberry and peach compliment salty anchovies and are a pleasant counterbalance to garlic. Intense acidity refreshes the palate, while the texture of his rosé wipes it clean preparing for the next bite.
Blue Cheese and Onion Gratin
Onions don’t often get to be the star of a dish, but you always have them on hand. They deserve a little bit of love and attention. This gratin recipe yields onions that are tender, caramelized and sweet—a perfect foil for sharp, punchy blue cheese and nutty, spicy rye breadcrumbs.
- 1 tablespoons butter
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- 2 large yellow onions, thin sliced
- Kosher salt and pepper
- ¼ cup Sherry
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons fine-chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon fine-grated lemon zest
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 1½ cups rye bread crumbs
- 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
- 2 tablespoons thin sliced chives
Position rack in top third of oven. Heat to 450°F.
In large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and start to color, about 20 minutes. Add Sherry to deglaze. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add cream, herbs, lemon zest and nutmeg. Simmer to combine flavors, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour mixture into 9 x 11-inch baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and blue cheese on top. Bake until golden-brown and bubbly on top, about 15 minutes. Garnish with chives before serving. Serves 4–6.
Domaine des Terres Dorées 2016 Côte de Brouilly; $21, 90 points. Brimming with acidity, the bright cherry flavors of this Gamay bring levity to decadent gratin. Concentrated flavors and firm structure are necessary to match the range of strong flavors from blue cheese, sweet onions and rye.
Bucatini with Lamb Bolognese
Conventional wisdom says not to eat spaghetti on a date, lest you spatter sauce everywhere. So save this rich, hearty meal for an occasion where people are less self-conscious about making a saucy mess. While bucatini is the ideal pasta shape for its thickness and great chew factor, any long, thick pasta will work. This recipe incorporates dried mint, coriander, cinnamon and orange juice, which are more common to more southern and western Mediterranean regions than to Italy. There’s some sort of magic that happens when these flavors combine with lamb.
- 1 pound ground lamb
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup fine-diced onion
- ¼ cup fine-diced carrot
- ¼ cup fine-diced celery
- 4 cloves garlic, fine-chopped
- ¼ cup fruity red wine
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
- 12 ounces dried bucatini or other long, thick pasta
- Grated Pecorino (optional, for serving)
In medium bowl, sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper to taste. Add mint, coriander and cinnamon, and combine.
In large saucepan, warm oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery, and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 7–10 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lamb, and stir to combine. Cook until browned on bottom. Add red wine and orange juice, and scrape any browned bits off bottom. Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer 30 minutes, lowering heat if necessary to prevent boiling.
Meanwhile, bring large, well-salted pot of water to boil. Add pasta, and cook al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Add pasta to Bolognese, and stir to combine. Thin with pasta water, if desired. Let simmer 2–3 minutes to meld flavors. Serve with additional red pepper flakes and Pecorino, if desired. Serves 4–6.
Planeta 2015 Frappato (Vittoria); $22, 88 points. A fresh red with eucalyptus notes, this Sicilian wine will complement the variety of spices and herbal flavors in the sauce while having enough body to handle the richness of lamb.