Stuffed Eggplants with herbed Bulgar recipe paired with a Wix & Tonic. Picture: Karen Biton-Cohen
Stuffed Eggplants with herbed Bulgar recipe paired with a Wix & Tonic. Picture: Karen Biton-Cohen

Skip the fuss of making fancy dinner reservations and spend the night in making a delicious meal for the ones you love. Whether it’s your spouse, significant other, best friend, group of friends, or just yourself, you can’t go wrong with any of these romantic recipes.

Impress your guest with a craft cocktail to pair with your dish, prepared by yourself. Here’s four romantic recipes to make for someone you love

Stuffed Eggplants with herbed Bulgar paired with a classic Wix & Tonic (vegan/vegetarian)

When the heat begins to break and you start spotting pomegranates at the market, consider a crowd-pleasing vegetarian dish of eggplants stuffed with herbed bulgur, pomegranate seeds, and pine nuts.

RECIPE

Serves 12

INGREDIENTS

6 small eggplants
5 tablespoons olive oil
Divided 1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper
1 teaspoon za’atar spice, 1 cup dry bulgur wheat, 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, tightly packed 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, tightly packed
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced (about 2 stalks), 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, plus more for garnish
(optional) 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish, 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350°F
Wash eggplants, slice in half lengthwise. Using a pairing knife, score eggplant halves with diagonal crosshatches, making sure not to cut through the skin. Drizzle each eggplant half with about a half-tablespoon of olive oil each. Season with the salt, pepper and za’atar spice. Bake, cut-side up, for about 45 minutes or until the eggplants are completely soft.

While the eggplants are baking, place the dry bulgur in a medium- sized bowl and pour boiling water over to cover by 1/2 inch. Place a kitchen towel over the bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the towel, fluff the bulgur with a fork, and taste. If the grain is still hard, recover the bowl with the kitchen towel and check back after 5 minutes.

Finely chop the parsley and cilantro. Once the bulgur is soft, drain any excess water. Toss the bulgur with the parsley, cilantro, scallions, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, lemon zest and juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with sea salt.

Transfer the cooked eggplants on to a platter and spoon the herbed- bulgur salad over the eggplants. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and pine nuts.

Wixworth Gin
Wixworth Gin

Paired with: Classic Wix & Tonic

The gin and tonic may conjure up images of wide verandas on a warm summer afternoon, but you can enjoy a Wix & Tonic anywhere, anytime.

INGREDIENTS

50 ml Wixworth Gin 200 ml Tonic Water
A lime/pomegranate wheel for garnish

METHOD

Build all ingredients in the glass over ice. Serve in a tall glass or large wine glass

MIXOLOGIST SUGGESTIONS

Rub the inside rim of the glass with the lime wheel before topping it up with this effervescent delight

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza paired with Ayama Vermentino

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza paired with Ayama Vermentino. Picture Joe Lingeman
Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza paired with Ayama Vermentino. Picture Joe Lingeman

RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

450g pizza dough, at room temperature, divided into 2 equal pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
8 thin slices prosciutto
A few big handfuls of arugula

INSTRUCTIONS

If you have a pizza stone, place it on a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 280°C (or max oven temp) for at least 30 minutes.

If transferring the pizza to a stone in the oven, assemble on a well- floured peel or cutting board. Otherwise, assemble on the surface you will be cooking on (parchment paper, baking sheet, etc.). Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll or stretch it into a 25-30cm circle. Brush the edges of the dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the rest of the dough. Sprinkle with about a 1/4 of the cheese. Lay 4 prosciutto slices so they are evenly covering the dough. Sprinkle with another 1/4 of the cheese.

Bake the pizza until edges are lightly browned and cheese is bubbly and browned in spots, about 6 minutes at 280°C. Remove from oven to a cutting board, scatter half of the arugula over top, and cut and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.

Paired with the Ayama Vermentino 2017

In 2014, Ayama planted two hectares of the first Vermentino in South Africa, a Sardinian clone going through six years of waiting between quarantine and vines to be made.

A glass of classic Sardinia Vermentino will offer up lively aromas of pear, white peach, lime and pink grapefruit with subtle notes of crushed rocks and citrus zest. On the palate, Vermentino is almost always dry and somewhat oily with flavours of grapefruit and citrus, with a crushed rocky minerality and saltiness. On the finish, it can be a bit snappy with bitterness similar to the taste of grapefruit pitho or, if it’s on the riper side, fresh almond.

On swing of the weather chilly days, this dish is certain to impress, with not too much effort.

RECIPE

Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS

Dried wild mushrooms (about 30g)
Large bone-in chicken thighs (about 1.3kg in total)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cubed pancetta or bacon (about 112g)
1 large red or yellow onion, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
2 medium carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups dry, fruity red wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
6 to 8 fresh parsley sprigs, for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour enough boiling water over to just cover; set aside.

Place the pancetta or bacon in a 4- to 6-quart (large enough to accommodate the chicken) deep skillet or Dutch oven with a lid over medium heat, and cook until browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onions and cook another minute, until onions begin to soften. Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Push the pancetta and onions to one side of the pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the chicken skin-side down in a single layer (in batches, if necessary), and cook until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp and golden-brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip the chicken skin-side up and drain off any excess fat.

Add the carrots, garlic, tomato paste, wine, chicken broth, bay leaves, and thyme. Lower the heat so that the liquid just barely simmers.

Cover and cook until chicken is cooked through and an instant-read thermometer reads 73°C, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving platter. Skim any excess fat off the top of the liquid. Remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid and add them to the pot. Pour the mushroom liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth (to remove any grit) and into the pot. Turn the heat up to high and boil the mixture until the sauce is reduced by a third to a half, depending on how much time you have. Remove the bay leaves and thyme.

A few minutes before serving, put the chicken pieces back into the sauce to reheat. Serve each chicken thigh topped with a ladle of sauce and garnished with chopped parsley leaves or a whole parsley sprig.

Paired with: Disaronno French connection cocktail

The ultimate after dinner cocktail, The French Connection, sip it and taste it slowly.

INGREDIENTS

25 ml Disaronno
50 ml Cognac
Orange zest

RECIPE

Pour over the mix into a heated cognac balloon glass. Garnish with orange zest.

Panna Cotta paired with a Tia Maria Espresso Martini Picture: Faith Durand
Panna Cotta paired with a Tia Maria Espresso Martini Picture: Faith Durand

Panna Cotta paired with a Tia Maria Espresso Martini

Easy, quick, practically foolproof, and accommodating to many dietary adjustments, being naturally gluten-free and adaptable to dairy-free and vegan diets.

RECIPE

Makes 6 puddings

INGREDIENTS

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups Whole milk
3 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups light or heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch salt

EQUIPMENT

Six 200g ramekins
Paper towels
2-quart saucepan
Whisk
Large bowl
Thin knife

INSTRUCTIONS

Lightly grease the ramekins: Spray the ramekins with cooking spray, then use a paper towel to wipe out most of the oil, leaving only a light residue.

Bloom the gelatin: Pour the milk into the saucepan and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over top. Let soften for 5 minutes or until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains look wet and slightly dissolved.

Dissolve the gelatin over low heat: Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, stirring or whisking frequently. The milk should never boil or simmer; if you see steam, remove the pot from the stove and let it cool down. The milk should get hot, but not so hot that you can’t leave your finger in the pot for a few seconds. The gelatin will dissolve quickly as the milk warms; it melts at body temperature so this step should go quickly.

Check to make sure the gelatin is dissolved: After about 2 minutes of warming, rub a bit of the milk between your fingers to make sure it’s smooth. Or dip a spoon in the milk and check the back for distinct grains of gelatin.

Dissolve sugar: Stir the sugar into the milk and continue warming until it dissolves as well. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes total to dissolve both the gelatin and sugar. Again, never let the mixture boil.

Whisk in cream and flavorings: Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the cream, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

Pour into ramekins and chill: Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared ramekins and put in the refrigerator to chill. If serving straight from the cups, without unmolding, chill for 1 to 2 hours. If you want to unmold the panna cotta, chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Prepare to unmold: Fill a large bowl partway with warm to hot water. Wipe a dessert plate with a damp paper towel (a damp plate lets you reposition the panna cotta more easily if it doesn’t fall in the right spot).

Release the panna cotta edge from the cup: Run a thin knife carefully around the sides of a ramekin. Don’t slide the knife all the way into the cup; just release the top edge of the pudding from the edge of the cup. Dip the ramekin in the warm water up to its rim, and hold it there for about 3 seconds.

Unmold on a plate: Invert the ramekin over the plate and shake gently to help the panna cotta fall out, or press gently on one side to help nudge it out. It should fall out on the plate easily. (If it does not, return to the warm water bath in increments of 2 seconds.) Reposition on the plate if desired. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, lightly covered, for up to 5 days. The gelatin gets stronger as it sits, so this will be a bit rubbery by days 4 or 5, but you can mitigate this by letting the panna cotta sit at room temperature for about half an hour before serving.

Panna cotta is such an easy dessert to make, and finishing it off can be very simple too. Here are a few ways I like to serve it.

Garnish with fresh fruit.
Drizzle with chocolate or caramel sauce.
Warm some raspberry or strawberry jam and drizzle over top.
Sprinkle chopped nuts or grated chocolate on top.
Dollop a spoonful of store-bought lemon curd on the pudding.

Paired with Tia Espresso Martini

The Tia Espresso Martini has been the classic evening pick-me-up since its creation in the 1980s.
25ML TIA MARIA
25ML VODKA
DOUBLE OR SINGLE SHOT ESPRESSO
5ML OF SUGAR SYRUP

METHOD

Fill a martini glass with ice and set aside to chill. Pour Tia Maria, vodka and espresso into a cocktail shaker. Fill the rest of the shaker with ice. Shake the ingredients together. Empty the martini glass of ice. Pour in the contents of the shaker using a strainer and sieve into the glass. Finish with coffee beans.

What: Food wine cocktail pairing recipes 
WS