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The Cooking Date


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Go with something quick / easy but full of flavour.... and for god's sake try to find out what she _hates_ before making up anything. My classic failures:

1) Cooking a girl something yummy involving chicken and a ridiculous amount of olives, only to find out she hates olives. Worked out for me though, still dated that one.

2) Honest, I had no idea she was a vegetarian.

3) Ditto, jewish. You think I would have learned after the vegetarian debacle.

I agree with an upper poster, something you can share and get your hands dirty with. Shellfish is always good. Nothing wrong with cracking open a bottle of vino, pouring some over some clams (maybe with some bacon or sausage tossed in) and nonchalantly making something tasty and hey... wine bottles open. Also works good if you own one of those portable little propane elements and live somewhere close to water.

Add bread, a few other little plates --maybe you have some rocking preserves/condiments/antipasto kicking around, etc. Whatever it is, keep is easy. Save the 2-3-4 hour cooked awesomeness for a later date (to uh, solidify your position).

But then again.. I hooked the current misses with a roast chicken, so what do I know!


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  • 3 years later...

Hi everyone! I have a first date next weekend with a really amazing guy and he loves Italian food. Instead of going to an expensive restaurant he has asked me to cook for him instead - he is bringing pudding. So what I want to know is - what is an excellent Italian meal I can cook for him? I want something quite traditional and would like to offer at least two courses - maybe a meat course and a pasta course - I think that is normally how Italian meals go right? Ideally it should be impressive and easy to finish off at the last minute - I can spend all day (and preceeding days) in preparation but it needs to be something I can serve up quite quickly and cleanly at the last minute. I should add that I am a very proficient cook so it doesn't necessarily have to be basic.

Thanks for any suggestions (and recipe links if possible!)

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First date? To me that says Lasagna Bolognese and either Dolcetto, Freisa, or if you're looking to be very traditional, dry red Lambrusco. Two days before, I'd braise short ribs in a bottle of red wine and some aromatics, shred the meat into nice small pieces, strain the liquid and cool it, pull the fat off the top. The next day, make the ragu (using the shredded meat, and ground chuck and pork in about equal amounts), reducing the braising liquid to the amount you need to add to the ragu. Make homemade pasta and a bechamel flavored with Reggiano and nutmeg, too.

You could effectively make this the day before, assemble it, cover the lasagna, and refrigerate. The day of dinner, you can reheat the lasagna and serve it. Maybe have a primi of broccoli rabe sauteed with anchovy, chile flake and lemon zest beforehand, and buy sorbet for afterwards.

You know, considering where you are, maybe a Syrah from the Gimblett Gravels would be good with this.



P.S. The ragu recipe I use (which is heavily adapted from a Saveur article) is here.

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Osso buco with risotto Milanese (saffron risotto) is both impressive and surprisingly easy. The hardest part is probably convincing yourself to shell out of the ingredients! The osso buco just braises in the oven, which leaves you free to make the risotto at the last minute. And it's a two pot meal (well, three if you count the broth). Braised lamb shanks with white beans is also a classic combination, and both can be cooked in the oven and held until you're ready to serve. Since both of these options are rich, I might start with a simple salad of thinly sliced fennel with olive oil and lemon and a bit of parmigiano reggiano.

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There is a relatively simple meat dish that tastes very nice in Antonio Carluccio's "An Invitation to Italian Cooking" called Chicken Saltimbocca. It is a variant on traditional Saltimbocca alla Romana that uses chicken instead of veal.

Basically, you get some good tasting chicken breast. Slice diagonally down into the breast to give serving size pieces (normally you'd use a full small chicken breast sliced or half a large chicken breast, which should give three to four pieces of saltimbocca per person). Put each piece between two pieces of plastic wrap and beat flat (think minute steak). Then lay sequentially on each piece a sage leaf, a slice of fontina cheese, and a piece of prosciutto to cover. Attach to the chicken by way of a toothpick. Cook in hot pan (I use butter and olive oil mix), prosciutto side down first, turn briefly to cook other side. Keep meat warm. Add small amount of white wine (around a small glass) to deglaze the pan and reduce. To enrich the sauce it a bit more, add a small amount of chicken stock. Cook down to pour-over sauce consistency. Serve chicken with sauce spooned over.

To accompany this, I normally make up a tomato-based pasta sauce and cook green beans in the sauce. Serve beans with tomato sauce (only a small amount so as not to overwhelm then).

My other accompaniment is typically fried potatoes with garlic, rosemary and sea salt.

The beauty of this dish is that finishing cooking can be done in less than ten minutes. It's a really tasty meal. I'll leave someone else to suggest a pasta course to go with it but given the main, I'd stick with a tomato- rather than cream- based sauce.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Zachary: That sounds truly amazing! I have never heard of making ragu with braised short rib! Would the recipe (with the ragu you suggested) hold together sufficiently to give it a nice presentation on the plate? Ie, it won't fall apart?

Edited by jfrater (log)
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I recommend keeping things light so he doesn't want to fall asleep right after the meal. I'd also go easy on the meat. I like the idea of a fennel salad to start, followed by a small serving of gnocchi with fresh peas, proscuitto, and non-boring mushrooms. For an entree, some veal (or chicken) marsala. I'd finish with a fresh fruit dessert like clementine segments macerated in a vanilla bean simple syrup, over a piece of sponge cake and topped with whipped cream.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1


Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Okay, I haven't had a first date in 30 years, but here's what I remember from first date meals. Don't overdo it on the rich sauce or red meat or the cheese or cream. First dates are usually--especially if you are cooking for someone--not the most relaxed events. Meals heavy in animal protein that are accompanied by dense red wines do not always leave one feeling witty or light on one's feet. And can the anchovies, unless you already know this person really well. Just a personal and somewhat different take on this.

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That's the beauty of the dish - the gelatin from converting the collagen in the short ribs goes into the braising liquid, which is then reduced for the addition to the ragu, so there's plenty of "set" to this lasagna. And since you're making it ahead and chilling it, and reheating it the day of dinner, it ought to come out in perfect slices. Just don't serve it too hot.



P.S. If you need the rest of the recipe, let me know and I can put it up.

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I'd start with a homemade stuffed pasta--agnolotti would be my choice. A quote from Matt Kramer in A Passion from Piemonte:

There's no sense in pretending that fashioning agnolotti isn't a lot of work. As a friend of mine once put it, "You know that someone really loves you if they make you agnolotti."

No exaggeration. A lot of work upfront, but quick last minute service and oh, these are delicious. Kramer and Marcella Hazan both have good recipes for the filling, a mixture of meats, spinach, and a touch of cheese. The filling can be made a couple of days ahead, the pasta rolled and filled a day ahead. Cook last minute, toss with fresh sage fried in browned butter, a bit of grated parm cheese. It is sublime.

Second course? I prefer fish to meat. I've had great success following the agnolloti with a second course of another excellent Hazan recipe, Cold Sauteed Trout in Orange Marinade. Whole trout, pan fried and then marinated in a gentle vermouth-orange marinade. Served room temperature. Another great recipe for last minute service since the work is done in advance. I've served it with a fennel and arugula salad. Delicious, substantial but not so heavy that there isn't room for dessert, nor a food coma afterwards.

Let us know what you make.

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So, as requested, the remainder of the recipe:

The Braise:

3 lbs beef short ribs (from the plate, cut English style – into small chunks. Ask your butcher)

1 lb beef shank, cut into slices about 1” thick

1 small onion, large dice

1 carrot, large dice

1 celery rib, large dice

1 bottle cheap red Italian wine (I used Montepulciano d’Abruzzo)

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

1. Place a 6 ½ quart dutch oven over medium high heat and film with olive oil. Salt and pepper the meat and brown the pieces of well, making sure not to burn them. You should do this in multiple batches so as to get proper browning on all sides of the ribs. Once one batch is brown, pull them out to a plate and start the next batch.

2. Make sure there’s some oil in the bottom of the pan – if not, add a few tablespoons and saute the vegetables until they’re soft and starting to brown. This should take 5-7 minutes. Be sure to stir them so they don’t burn.

3. Once the vegetables are brown, add the meat back in along with the collected juices and then the bottle of wine. If the wine doesn’t cover all the meat, add water to barely cover, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover the dutch oven.

4. After about 3 hours, check the meat. The rib meat should be falling off the bones, and the shank should shred like brisket. If it doesn’t, put the lid back on and check it again in 30 minutes. You can’t rush this process – the collagen in the meat has got to convert to gelatin. You should notice the liquid becoming glossy and thicker.

5. Once the meat is done, remove it from the liquid. Degrease the braising liquid, reserving the fat, and once that’s done, bring it back to a simmer and add the bay leaves. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and reduce the wine to 1 cup. Reserve the liquid and let cool.

6. While the meat is still warm, shred and chop it into chunks – you’re looking for some texture here, so don’t worry about making it too fine. Remove the connective tissue and bones and discard them. Reserve the chopped meat.

The Pasta:

3 ½ cups all purpose flour

4 eggs

1 tsp salt


Food processor

a very large wooden cutting board, preferably with a lip to catch the edge of the counter

Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer w/ Pasta Attachment – know how to use this!

2 very large rimmed baking sheets

3 or 4 kitchen towels

extra flour for dusting in a bowl

small bowl of ice water

Paper towels

8 quart stock pot, salted very well and held on the simmer

large bowl with water and ice for shocking the cooked pasta – I used the bowl of a salad spinner

1. Line everything up – this is really easy if you know what you’re doing, but it’s not if you’re running around like an idiot. In front of you, put the wooden board. On top of it, place the food processor. Attach the pasta attachment to the stand mixer – it ought to be to the right of you. To the left, line one of the baking sheets with a kitchen towel and dust the towel with flour. Stack some sheets of paper towels big enough to cover the kitchen towel nearby.

2. In the bowl of the food processor place the flour and the salt. Pulse it a few times to combine and loosen the flour.

3. Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl. Turn the food processor on, and in a steady stream, pour the eggs through the opening on top of the machine. This may not look like it’s going to work at first, but you’ll either overheat your machine or a rough ball will form. This might take 30 seconds. Remove the dough from the food processor and put the processor away.

4. Dust the top of the wooden board with flour. Take the dough and knead it for 10 minutes. Just pretend you’re giving the dough CPR and keep folding it onto itself for 10 minutes. It helps to have someone do this with you. The ball should form a silky mass... if you feel it’s too dry, wet your fingers and work it into the dough. If it’s too wet, add a pinch of flour to the board and work it in. Making dough is all about feel, and that’s something I can’t teach you.

5. After 10 minutes, round the dough into an even ball, coat it with a film of oil, and put it in a Ziploc bag. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

6. With about 10 minutes of waiting left, put the stock pot ¾ full of salted water on to boil. Hold it at a simmer, covered, and get your ice bath ready.

7. Take out the dough. Cut about a ¾ inch slice off the ball and put the ball back into the bag. With the stand mixer on about 3, set the pasta attachment to the widest setting (1), and run the dough through the machine. Once it’s through, take the dough and fold it over on itself lengthwise, pressing it gently together. Run it through again. Move the setting to the next number, and repeat this process again, for settings 1-4.

8. At setting 5, you don’t need to run the dough through twice any more – once will do. You ought to be getting a flat, almost translucent sheet of dough that’s really long, and has a vaguely ragged edge. It ought to feel like silk at this point, without being sticky or fraying at the ends.

9. Finish running the dough through on setting #8. Take the long pasta sheet and cut it into roughly 13-15 inch pieces. You might get 2 at first, but the larger pieces in the middle of the ball will make 3 noodles. Dust the tops of each completed layer of noodles lightly with flour, and put a layer of paper towels down to separate them.

10. Repeat steps 7-9 with the remaining dough. This should make 14-16 noodles. Once you’ve got your noodles done, wait about 5-10 minutes to let them dry slightly.

11. Take the cover off the pot of boiling water. Drop one noodle at a time into the water and cook for 30 seconds. Remove each noodle to the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Repeat for the remaining noodles. You might have to add a tablespoon of oil to the water to stop foam-up.

12. Pull the noodles out of the ice bath and place them on a dry kitchen towel, spread out to avoid sticking the noodles together. Cover with another kitchen towel and reserve the noodles.


42 grams unsalted butter

42 grams flour

2 ½ cups whole milk, at room temperature

1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

Salt and White pepper

½ cup. freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano

Fresh nutmeg – a Microplane grater helps immensely here

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter foams and subsides, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until a paste forms. This is a basic white roux.

2. Cook the roux until it begins to bubble, but do not let it brown, about 3 minutes. Whisk the milk into the roux in a steady stream. Bring the milk to a simmer, whisking frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the cream to the Bechamel sauce, and whisk in.

4. Season with salt and white pepper, then add the cheese and a few grates of fresh nutmeg – you want to smell the cheese and nutmeg pretty strongly here. The sauce ought to be fairly thick. Let sauce cool slightly.

When you're ready to assemble, grate 1 1/2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano. In a buttered 13x9 pan, coat the bottom with a little ragu. Start with noodles, and overlap them slightly, then build layers of ragu, bechamel and parmesan, repeating until you're almost at the top of the pan. Mix the remaining ragu and bechamel together (you should have a cup and a half), and cover the top of the lasagna.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put the lasagna on a cookie sheet (to catch any overflow), and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the broiler to high and broil the lasagna until the bechamel is brown and bubbly. You don't want blackened stuff, just brown edges of the noodles and browned bechamel. Remove from the oven and rest for 15-20 minutes before serving.



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...he is bringing pudding.

Do you know what kind of pudding? It might be possible to play off the flavor of the dessert with the main course.

...at least two courses - maybe a meat course and a pasta course - I think that is normally how Italian meals go right?

Usually a starter (antipasti), then pasta or soup, followed by a protein (meat, fish, egg) with veggie & bread on the side. Dessert follows all. When braising meat, the pasta is served with the sauce from the braised meat; then the meat (with a little sauce) follows separately. For example, if you make the braised short ribs, you'd serve pasta with the sauce from the braise, then for the next course, serve the short ribs with a little sauce, a veggie side dish, and some bread to mop it all up. I've found that the pasta followed by the separate meat course is a very pleasant, relaxed way to eat. No big portions of pasta that early in the dinner, BTW--only very modest-sized portions of pasta.

I've been taking some cooking classes with Rosetta Costantino (My Calabria cookbook). These are some menus from her classes. Maybe they will give you some ideas of what you can do.





Sounds like you have a wonderful meal in the making. Have fun!

ETA: I'm assuming the braising sauce is tomato-based, or otherwise suited for pasta.

Edited by djyee100 (log)
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I agree with Alex and others -- a saltimbocca of veal, chicken or pork filets, sauced with Marsala, parsley and a little lemon juice is easy and astoundingly good. Serve on a baby bed of polenta, preceed with an artichoke salad with chokes from cans or bottles. They use them in Italy,y'know.

Men don't like to admit that they love dessert, but take it from a vecchia signora, they do. Make a tiramisu the day before and serve it with lashes of whipped cream.

You're all good.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel


A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites


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A great light-ish pasta course could be with paccheri, a cherry tomato napoli, some fresh cuttlefish and finish with a little ricotta, herbs and lemon zest.

Personally, I'd start with antipasti, have the pasta as a main, and serve a classical tiramisu for dessert. Though you said he's bringing that, so disregard that last thought haha.

Hope it goes well for you.


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Some of these preparations are way too involved and, IMO, are better suited to the all important third date (or "money shot" date, as I like to call it). Also, another thing to take into account is that the OP is in New Zealand and the seasons are exactly reversed.

If you want to really honor Italian cuisine, find some great ingredients and present them with minimal manipulation. If I were you, I'd go for a main course of bistecca florentina with some of your amazing NZ grass fed beef. A simple salad of seasonal vegetables to accompany it, some shaved asparagus, maybe some fennel, maybe some nuts.

For the preceding course, find the best produce you can at the market right now and figure out how to make a soup out of it. Focus on layering and purifying flavors rather than following any specific recipe.

And for a starter, get some great bread and grill it simply with some good olive oil and top it with something else good for a simple bruschetta. Could be the standard tomatoes if you can find some great ones but it could be anything else, maybe some fava beans, or some great capsicum.

The essence of Italian cuisine is to not have too much of a plan when you go shopping and then to construct flavors around what's opportunistically found.

All in all, if it's taking you more than maybe 20 minutes per course of active kitchen time, then it's probably too involved. Simple, simple, simple.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)

PS: I am a guy.

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a fun first course could be some nice antipasto - cured meats,cheese, olives, marinated vegetables or some salad, arancini maybe, some home baked Italian bread, bruschetta etc - finger food - sexy and sensual... make some good aperol or campari spritzes to go with them and then move onto the main course. Im yet to meet a man who doesnt appreciate a good steak - you could try poaching one in barolo like this jamie oliver recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jamie-oliver/barolo-poached-fillet-steak-with-celeriac-puree-recipe/index.html and maybe skip the puree for something lighter like sauteed spinach, asparagus and zucchini.

"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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Some of these preparations are way too involved and, IMO, are better suited to the all important third date (or "money shot" date, as I like to call it).

Ha! It wasn't intententional on my part, but the first dinner at my place was indeed our third date. Ms. Alex remembers everything I made (green salad, chicken cordon bleu and redskins, vanilla ice cream (Breyers, probably) with strawberries and homemade chocolate sauce) -- and this was 21 years ago. Not only that, she remembers what we ordered (and what we wore!) on our first date. And where we ate on our second date (but not what we ordered) -- and that it was Sunday brunch because I had asked her to go to the symphony with me on Saturday night but she already had a committment to run a Bingo fundraiser. Whew.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1


Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I also think the lasagna idea is a great one: I made this for my boyfriend when I was first seeing him (not for the first date, since we never actually had one, but that's another story), and he adored it. I used one of the recipes from The Splendid Table, and it worked hitch-free; it's one of my favourite cookbooks.

One caveat: My boyfriend loved this lasagna, in fact he ate enough of it to be able to do little more than sit about after dinner, smiling dreamily, with a glassy look in his eyes (this was pure food coma, since there was no wine involved, because he'd just got done recovering from the hangover of the century). So, you may want to consider a lighter meal, if you have any after-dinner plans beyond disjointed conversation.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums

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It's one thing to cook for yourself. It's another thing to cook for friends and family. It's a whole other ballgame to cook for a date- and that's a date with someone you've already dated a few times. A first date? I'm not saying it can't be done or hasn't been done, but this isn't something I would ever willingly commit to. You're taking what is already a pretty stressful experience and ramping up the stress level about 1000 percent.

If you can get out of this, I would. Tell him you're having oven problems, pick a good restaurant, and bake for him after you get to know him a bit better and are more relaxed. You'll both be able to enjoy your hard work so much more without the pressure of having to get know each other at the same time.

If you really are dead set on doing this, then I would highly suggest clarifying what he means by loving 'Italian Food.' Here, in the U.S., 8 out of ten 10 people who say they love 'Italian Food,' will be talking about Italian American food- Pizza, Veal parm, sausage with peppers and onions, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, etc. If you feed these kind of people real Italian food, like Osso Buco, they will look at you with a blank stare. The last thing you want to do is spend hours on something, only for him to not really be into it.

The other thing I suggest is that you shouldn't be here asking for advice on what Italian Food would be good for a first date. Making something for the first time on a first date or even after a single trial run, is, no offense, insane. You want to think of the most mind blowingly awesome dishes that you make- dishes that you can make blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back, on sleeping pills. Those are the dishes that you want to offer this chap- not a dish that you've never made, from a cuisine that you're asking questions about.

If you truly are a 'proficient cook,' then you should have at least a handful of orgasm inducing dishes in your repertoire- these are what you need to zero in on. If you want to leaf through cookbooks for your third or fourth date, go for it, but, for now, stick with something you know.

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egullet delivers!! I was going to post something and then saw half a dozen suggestions that were better than mine. Good luck with your first date!

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw
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