Spear’s knows too well the misadventures that can ensue when cooking at home for a date. Thankfully, Simon Denton has shared some of his culinary secrets to sophistication.
A normal day for Zafferano’s chef director, Simon Denton, can involve creating a dinner for 400 in 45 minutes at the V&A. Here, he offers top tips and insider secrets for that most trepidatious of entertaining feats - cooking for a date. Follow Simon’s tips to the letter and he’ll ensure that you get it right on the night.
Simon Says -
Your date has come to see you, not the back of your head while you chop, whisk and julienne, so don’t fall into the trap of leaving everything to the last minute. Preparation is key.
It’s not rocket science – with a little clever shopping and by getting ahead of the game, you can create a seemingly effortless restaurant quality menu which can be prepped in advance, and which actually improves with sitting around a little while you mix a martini or two.
1. To start
Keep things light with an elegant salad, showcasing market fresh, seasonal ingredients. A creamy buratta with cracked black pepper, zest of lemon and roasted pears will look amazing and also be impressive in an understated ‘I just threw a few of my favourite things together’ kind of way.
If you want to channel your inner pyromaniac and are feeling brave enough to use one of the gadgets at the back of your cupboard, use a blow-torch to lightly scorch the surface…just make sure the smoke detector doesn’t cramp your style.
Finish with a few roasted cobs, or hazelnuts, crisp endive and dress at the last minute with a raisin mustard dressing. Incredible.
2. To follow
With such a light starter you can afford to be a bit more hearty with the main. Forget Waitrose, head straight to your local butchers and ask for a four bone rack of veal. No messing.
Lightly oil and season the meat, and sear it for 1-2 mins on each side to caramelise. Don’t shake the pan – that’s for daytime TV chefs…not for us.
Cut some ratte potatoes in half and put face down in a heavy roasting tin with some olive oil, smashed garlic, rosemary and seasoning. Push the potatoes to one side and put the veal in the middle.
Roast the whole lot in a gentle pre-heated 140-150°c fan oven – the lower heat allows a little more margin for error – for 30-35 mins or when the core temperature reads 52 degrees on your meat thermometer.
Meanwhile mix some softened, unsalted butter with chopped capers, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, sea salt & freshly-milled black pepper and roll into a cylinder shape. Wrap it in cling film and bung in the freezer to firm up.
Take the veal out of the oven, slap on a pat of your lemon butter and cover loosely in foil until you’re ready – it will hold a good temperature for around 45 minutes.
Five minutes before you’re ready to serve, flash the potatoes and veal under the grill to crisp up.
Serve with lightly steamed tenderstem broccoli (again at room temperature if it’s easier) drizzled with a top quality extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.
Or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, a courgette, baby aubergine and artichoke salad, roasted with garlic and rosemary, left to steep for an hour or so with a good splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, served on a bed of rocket with slithers of pecorino scattered on top.
3. To finish
So if you’ve pulled off 1 & 2 with aplomb, no one will judge you if you’re a bit more flash with pudding.
Continuing the Italian vibe, knock up a Sgroppino – a hybrid Venetian dessert/boozy slush puppy, masterfully mixed in front of your date as a grande finale.
Have a couple of martini glasses or champagne saucers in the freezer on standby. Sling a clean tea towel over your shoulder (always a good look) and whisk four table spoons of good quality (shop bought) lemon sorbet in a stainless steel bowl with 25ml of ice-cold vodka, until it reaches a pouring consistency. Spoon into your frosted glasses and top up with chilled prosecco.
Sit back, sip and bask in the reflected glory of a job well done.