Dinner à deux? Use the best-quality ingredients and serve with love to make any meal a special occasion
Looking back over my life, all the years of dating and being in a couple – before I had children – were spent over tables, sometimes in restaurants, often at home. Loves, both casual and committed, come and go but despite the mutability of life the ‘dinner together’ years represent good times. Cooking was always worth the effort because, especially if you both loved food, you bonded over its pleasure.
A shared dinner is full of hope. I love the sight of a table set for two and even fondly remember the good meals cooked for not particularly worthy men. When your children leave home, you return to this place you both once occupied, a place of chatting at dinner without interruptions, of opening wine on a Wednesday night, even though you’re both trying to cut down, just for a treat.
There’s a neatness to cooking for two. Family cooking is different. When you’re cooking for four or six the week’s food is a thread. You take into account leftovers, how to make components into a completely different dish. When there’s just two of you, meals are more likely to be an end in themselves.
Some ingredients – the building blocks of meals – are much more suited to two. Whole small fish – such as bream – where you can each have your own, duck breasts, steaks, risottos, pasta dishes that seem luxurious because you’ve bought a stash of fresh wild mushrooms or scored some clams.
I often think of quite old-fashioned dishes, such as beef stroganoff or veal cordon bleu, when I consider a special meal for two. Stroganoff is just about affordable. You can concentrate on getting two ham and cheese topped – and crumbed – escalopes of veal perfectly cooked, the cheese melting, the crust crisp and just the right shade of gold. I also remember how easy it is to make a couple of spoonfuls of sauce, the kind that can be done just by sloshing some booze and stock into a pan around a piece of meat. Who doesn’t want to give their loved one the intense flavours of reduced cooking juices with a nugget of cold butter whisked into it?
I hardly need to tell you that whatever cheers you up is worth doing. If you’re on your own – without children – don’t let every night be yet another pasta night. If you’re both at home with children you need a dinner a deux more than most. This isn’t just food writer guff – a good meal has the power to make you feel better, even to make you feel closer. You stop doing everything else, your senses are alert, you look at each other, you let go.
My mum made dinner for my dad most nights ever since she was 22. Towards the end of his life everything had to be soft – the lemon sole was flaked, potatoes were mashed with butter (not much point caring about cholesterol in your eighties, was their attitude). They were dinners for two that were eaten separately but together. My dad loved his food. My mum cooked it well. This wasn’t sad, though it was hard work. Treats for two go on. What makes us human is that we continue to care enough about how we cook it and how it tastes – and that we share it.