I first met Pat when he assisted me during a private cooking class. The evening was crazy! The group was nearly two hours late due to ‘traffic’, but we managed to finish the entire lesson in an hour and a half. Pat stuck it out for the entire time and even stayed late to help me clean up the studio, even though he had far surpassed his volunteer obligations. We stayed connected here and there chatting about food via Twitter, and finally he has his own space to share a few of his recipes with all of you today! I will speak for almost all women and say that it is fantastic when someone you’re interested in prepares a meal for you. Pat deserves applause for the dinner he whipped up for a lucky girl. Take a look!
A while back I met a woman that I wanted to impress, so I asked her if I could cook dinner for her. She said yes, and knowing that I only had one chance to make a first impression, I went for the nuclear option and cooked three of my favorite dishes: pasta marina, roast rack of lamb, and bread pudding for dessert. That first date ended up lasting 40 hours, so I think I did an alright job.
It takes a while to cook and eat this whole meal…I think it was about 4 hours from when I started to when we finished our last bite of dessert. It’s pretty easy to prepare, leaving you time and attention for your date, while being involved enough to impress him or her. Maximum impact for little effort, and did I mention that it tastes awesome?!
One last note: I don’t measure ingredients or time. I’ll note the rough amounts and times when I know them, but otherwise you’ll need to be comfortable eyeing things and tasting things and basically trusting your cooking instincts. It’s a lot more fun that way anyway. Now, on to the menu!
First off, have something for your date to snack on while you work. Olives, cheese, bread, something like that. I also suggest opening a bottle of wine.
Spinach and Citrus Salad – Serves 2 to 4
8 ounces fresh spinach
4-6 small mandarins oranges or tangerines
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Put the spinach in a bowl, peel and segment the chosen citrus and place the slices on top of the spinach. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Easy peezy, fresh and tasty. I like to serve the salad with white wine. I prepare the salad while the tomatoes roast for the marinara.
Pat’s Best Marinara Ever – Serves 8 to 10
12 large Roma tomatoes
8 large garlic cloves
Salt and black pepper, for seasoning
1 large white onion
1 pound of your favorite pasta
Fresh Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Start off by roasting the tomatoes. Place them in a roasting pan with 4-5 garlic cloves, drizzle with olive oil, top with plenty of salt and pepper, and stick the pan in the oven. I roast stuff at 400 degrees because they come out nicely in my oven. The trick here is PATIENCE. Pretty much the longer you wait, the better the sauce turns out. 45 minutes would be the bare minimum I’d want to roast the tomatoes. The ones you see pictured here went for 90 minutes, and the sauce was awesome. While the tomatoes are roasting, dice the onion and mince the remaining garlic. Sauté the onion in a medium-sized pot with olive oil for about 10 minutes, then add the minced garlic. Once the tomatoes are done, dump them into the pan and mash them up a bit. They’ll be really soft and the sauce will come together quickly. Stir it every few minutes, taste it plenty, add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, add lots of salt. Cook and drain the pasta, then set aside, but save the pasta water. Now’s the time to grate the Parmesan cheese and chiffonade the basil. Chiffonade is a fancy word for cut it into thin slices. Roll a few leaves up like a cigarette, and then slice it up, leaving you with lovely slices of basil. Dish out the pasta into serving bowls. Top with Parmesan now. Before you add the sauce. The cheese melts, the pasta absorbs it, and you get a heartier tastier pasta as a result. Add a scoop of the starchy pasta water to the sauce and give it a good stir. Top the pasta with sauce, basil, and more parmesan cheese. Serve and enjoy. The pasta is a nice time to transition from white wine to red. It goes great with both.
If you want to save time, you can skip roasting the tomatoes. Blend the tomatoes quickly so you get some smooth sauce with some tomato chunks left over, and cook the tomatoes in the pot for 20-30 minutes. But really, roasting is worth it, both for the flavor and the wow factor.
Roast Rack of Lamb – Serves 4
1 1/2 – 2 pounds rack of lamb
Kosher salt and black pepper, for seasoning
Fresh rosemary sprigs
This dish pretty much sums up my cooking philosophy: start with the best ingredients you can find, and don’t screw it up. I take the lamb out of the fridge before I start with the salad, so it’s gotten to room temperature by the time I’m ready to cook. I season it while the tomatoes roast, then set it aside. Season it with plenty of salt and pepper, then coat with olive oil. When you’re ready to cook, start off by heating olive oil in a pan until it is very hot, then searing the meat side of the rack. I use a cast iron skillet, and this is the part of the night where I fill the kitchen with smoke. So open a window and move the smoke alarm to another room.
You can skip the searing if you want (a good rack of lamb will basically cook itself anyway), but searing it will make for a better flavor and juicier lamb. Sear for about 2 minutes per side, then slide the pan into the oven preheated to 400 degrees, topping it with the rosemary. You can use a roasting pan, a cast iron pot, whatever it will fit in basically. Roast until it reaches your desired level of doneness…approximately 12 minutes for rare and up to 15 for medium rare. The cooking time will depend on the size of the meat, oven calibration, the roasting dish, and probably the phase of the moon. I left this lamb in the oven for 15 minutes, which was about 3 minutes longer than I should have. It still ended up a nice medium rare in the center, but I like my lamb pretty rare. When it’s done, take it out of the oven and let it rest for about five minutes before slicing.
Pat’s Bread Pudding – Serves 6 to 8
1 loaf challah bread
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 – 3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
Some people like to use old crusty bread for bread pudding. I like a nice soft pudding so I use challah bread. Plus it’s a bit sweeter. I prepare the mixture while the lamb roasts. Tear the bread up and place it in a big mixing bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then pour them over the pudding. Dump the whipping cream in, and add the milk and sugar. Then mix it all up with your hands. You’ll want the bread to be well-coated and absorb most of, but not all, the liquid. Basically, you want the liquid to fill the gaps in the bread and be about even with the top of the bread mixture, rather than having a soup of bread bits floating around the liquid. Pour it into either a baking dish and place in the oven. Let it bake at about 400 degrees. When it’s done, it should expand a bit, brown on top, and thicken on the inside.
When it’s done, take it out and let the pudding sit for a few minutes, then serve up a couple slices. Top with some whipped cream and strawberries. I tried homemade whipped cream this time, which is super easy (blend heavy whipping cream with sugar), but I still only have a 50% success rate of making it actually look like whipped cream. This time it came out looking like a sauce, which is fine by me.
A fun thing to try here is to add some citrus zest to the batter…it gives it a nice subtle flavor and ties it back to the salad. Kind of a nice way to end the meal.
As you can see, this is a definite date-night menu. Of course, any of these dishes on its own will make for a great meal. Good luck, and have fun!
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