Ricotta squash, mushroom ‘meatball’ pasta, strawberry cream: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Valentine’s Day recipes for two (2024)

Cooking for someone is always an act of love. It takes time, and eating together is an intimate activity. Whether you cook a meal from scratch every evening or only when there is a special occasion, I hope the link between food and love is one you get to feel. This week’s dishes work as well as an all-out feast for 14 February – happy Valentine’s! – as they do individually on any day of the week or year.

Butternut squash with currants, olives and ricotta (pictured above)

I love the balance of sweet and sour here. That works both as a description of the dish itself, which is inspired by the flavours of Italian caponata, and as a metaphor for relationships. Make this a day ahead, if you like: the flavours only improve with time. For a gluten-free option, swap the bread for lettuce cups or anything else scoop-like.

Prep 25 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 2

3 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion
, peeled and finely chopped (120g)
1½ tsp tomato paste
4 garlic cloves
, peeled and crushed
2½ tsp maple syrup
350g butternut squash
(ie about a third of a medium one), peeled and cut into 1-1½cm cubes (300g)
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
25g dried currants
nocellara olives, pitted and halved (40g)
25g pine nuts, well toasted
1 tbsp oregano leaves
2 tbsp basil leaves, cut into chiffonade strips
120g ricotta
Focaccia (store-bought), to serve

Put two tablespoons of the oil in a medium saute pan on a medium-high heat, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for four minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the tomato paste, garlic and a teaspoon and a half of the maple syrup, and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the squash, a half-teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper, then turn down the heat to medium and fry, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes, until the squash is soft but still holding its shape.

Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat. Once it’s bubbling, take off the heat, stir in the currants and set aside to plump up.

When the squash is ready, stir in the vinegar and currant mixture, the olives, remaining teaspoon of maple syrup and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, and cook gently for three minutes more. Set aside to cool slightly – give it at least 15 minutes – then stir in the herbs.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Divide the ricotta mix between two plates, then top with the warm squash mixture. Drizzle over the final tablespoon of oil and serve warm or at room temperature, with the focaccia to tear, scoop and eat alongside.

Spaghetti and (not) meatballs with fried oregano

Ricotta squash, mushroom ‘meatball’ pasta, strawberry cream: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Valentine’s Day recipes for two (1)

The most romantic scene in (Disney) film history has to go to Lady and the Tramp, right? This is my meatless homage. Extra-long spaghetti optional, for the true sharing experience. You’ll be left with two spare “meatballs”, which will be perfect for a mini meatball sub or snack.

Prep 35 min
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Serves 2

For the tomato sauce
1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes, crushed by hand or with a fork
1 tsp aleppo chilli flakes, plus 1 tsp extra for the meatballs
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp tomato paste
1½ tsp caster sugar
2 garlic cloves
, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper

For the ‘meatballs’
3½ tbsp olive oil
1 onion
, peeled and finely chopped (180g)
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped in a food processor (100g)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, picked to get 1 tsp leaves
1 tbsp oregano leaves, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
300g chestnut mushrooms, coarsely chopped in a food processor
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp pine nuts
, toasted and roughly chopped
65g cooked brown rice, roughly blitzed in a food processor
25g parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to serve
1 egg
50g panko breadcrumbs
35g parsley leaves
, finely chopped
130g spaghetti

For the crisp oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tbsp oregano leaves

Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 8. First, make the sauce. Put the tomatoes, a teaspoon of the aleppo chilli, oil, tomato paste, sugar, garlic, 200ml water, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper in a medium 20cm x 14cm oven dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once halfway, until reduced by about half.

To make the meatballs, put a tablespoon and a half of the oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, thyme and oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the onion has softened and lightly coloured. Add the garlic, mushrooms and soy sauce, cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes, until nicely browned, then take off the heat and leave to cool.

Once the mushroom mix is cool, stir in the pine nuts, rice, the second teaspoon of aleppo chilli, 25g parmesan, the egg, breadcrumbs and parsley, and mix well to combine. Divide the mix into eight roughly 60g pieces, roll these into balls, making sure they’re tightly compacted. Wipe out the pan, then put it back on a medium-high heat with the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, fry the meatballs, turning them gently, for seven to eight minutes, until evenly coloured all over. Carefully transfer the balls to the tomato sauce dish, turn them gently with a spoon to coat, then return the dish to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, to heat the meatballs through.

Meanwhile, make the crisp oregano. Put the oil in a small frying pan on a medium-high heat and, once hot, add the oregano leaves and fry, stirring constantly, for two minutes, until they start to darken and turn translucent. Take off the heat and pour through a sieve set over a small bowl.

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted boiling water for about seven minutes, or according to package directions, then drain, reserving three tablespoons of the cooking water.

Carefully lift the meatballs from the sauce and transfer them to a plate. Stir the spaghetti and reserved cooking water into the tomato sauce until nicely coated, then divide between two shallow bowls, top with three meatballs each and then with the crisp oregano and its oil. Sprinkle with the extra parmesan, and serve.

Strawberries and vanilla cream with milk chocolate crumble

Ricotta squash, mushroom ‘meatball’ pasta, strawberry cream: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Valentine’s Day recipes for two (2)

For all that strawberries are associated with love, they’re not in season in February, which is why I’ve used frozen here. There’s nothing to stop you saving the recipe for the summer as well, to try out with fresh, ripe strawberries.

Prep 15 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 2

300g frozen strawberries, defrosted
1 lime, juiced, to get 1½ tsp, and zest finely grated, to get 1 tsp
30g caster sugar
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
¼ tsp sumac
60g creme fraiche
60ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

For the cocoa crumble
25g plain flour
2 tsp (5g) cocoa powder
4 tsp (10g) milk powder
25g dark, soft brown sugar
A pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla bean paste
30g fridge-cold unsalted butter
, cut into 1½cm cubes

Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3, then start on the crumble. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, milk powder, sugar and salt to combine, then add the vanilla and butter, and use your fingertips to squeeze the butter cubes into the dry ingredients until you have a rough crumble. Tip out on to a small, oven tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 22 minutes, stirring once halfway to break it up. Remove from the oven, stir again to turn the mix to a fine crumble, then leave to cool completely.

Measure out 200g strawberries, halve them (or quarter them if they’re on the large side) and put in a bowl. Add the lime juice and 10g caster sugar, toss gently to combine, then refrigerate.

Put the remaining 100g strawberries in the small bowl of a food processor and blitz smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour into a small saute pan, add the molasses, sumac and another 10g sugar, turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the mix starts to bubble, turn down the heat to medium, cook gently, stirring occasionally, for five to six minutes, until glossy and slightly thickened, then set aside to cool completely.

Put the creme fraiche, double cream, vanilla and remaining 10g sugar in a large bowl and whisk by hand for two or three minutes, until you have soft peaks. Refrigerate until ready to serve (you want it nice and cold).

Divide the cream mixture between two small shallow bowls, then make a well in the centre with the back of a spoon. Top the cream with the blitzed strawberries, and swirl them in slightly. Drain the macerated strawberries of their liquid, then divide them between the two bowls. Finally, sprinkle over a good spoonful of the crumble, finish with the lime zest, and serve with the remaining crumble to spoon over to taste.

Ricotta squash, mushroom ‘meatball’ pasta, strawberry cream: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Valentine’s Day recipes for two (2024)
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