Valentine’s Day, like New Year’s Eve, is a high-stakes holiday that always seems to require more planning than you anticipated. Oh, you didn’t make a reservation for the romantic dinner of your dreams three months in advance? Good luck finding a table at this point.
But do you know what’s more romantic (and far more affordable) than a $950 tasting menu at Per Se? A home-cooked French dinner that shows you’re as talented in the kitchen as you are in *other rooms* of the house. These recipe selections can be scaled up for a Galentine’s feast, and pair excellently with a French film for dessert.
A French apéritif is never a bad way to kick off a long, luxurious meal, particularly with one of these Low-ABV apéritif cocktails. But if you’re looking for a signature cocktail for the evening, consider a Thyme Kir Royale or a Gentian Spritzer for something bubbly and appetizing, or turning to a classic Boulevardier for something with a bit more weight. If you’re only going to get one bottle of wine for the evening, let it be a Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re going to get a second, get a Pinot Noir. Otherwise, we’ve provided wine pairing options for each of our courses.
These are great for making ahead and munching on while you finish prep for the rest of your dinner. Inspired by tableside snacking in Provence, land of herbs and olives, this recipe takes some high quality olives (we like Italian Castelvetranos—shh, don’t tell the French) and transforms them with a few herbs and some orange zest into something savory, flavorful, and gourmet. Pair with a crisp rosé or a Sauvignon Blanc.
Gougères are a perfect food: they’re essentially cheese puffs for adults. A few basic pantry staples and a brick of gruyère result in savory bites of choux pastry that are so tasty you’ll have to be careful not to fill up before the main course. Try this Gougères recipe from Alain Ducasse, and pair it with a Pinot Noir or a dry Alsatian Riesling.
Steak Tartare or Veggie Tartare
While it might sound intimidating, steak tartare can probably be made almost entirely with ingredients you already have: capers, whole grain mustard, egg yolk, lemon, shallots, parsley. The hardest part is finding top quality beef. Follow this easy recipe for an appetizer that will look incredibly fancy with minimal effort.
Don’t do beef? Pas de problème. Chef Alex (formerly known as French Guy Cooking) has a stellar vegetarian tartare hack that uses red bell pepper, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes for a surprisingly successful dupe.
You might be familiar with the rule that red wine always goes with red meat, but in this case, a complex rosé will better offset the tender notes of the raw beef.
Chicken With Mustard
David Lebovitz has a knack for diving into the deep recesses of culinary experimentation. But the cover feature recipe from his seminal book on French cooking, My Paris Kitchen, is something even an amateur can handle… with the help of a quality Dijon mustard. Lebovitz’s Chicken With Mustard recipe involves only ingredients and cookware you probably have on hand: chicken thighs and drumsticks, bacon, mustard, white wine, plus some seasonings and aromatics. Try a Sauvignon Blanc for the white wine, and serve the rest with dinner.
Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Tarragon Tart
For a vegetarian main, there are few recipes that are more stunning than Melissa Clark’s Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Tarragon Tart, from her cookbook, Dinner in French. It is worth going out of your way to find crème fraîche and tarragon, which may be specialty items depending on where you live, because the rest of the recipe is extremely straightforward, and is even supported by a comforting pillow of store-bought puff pastry. Sub in some basil or dill and a sprinkle of anise or fennel seeds if you can’t find tarragon. Because of the goat cheese in this dish, Sauvignon Blanc is also a great pairing option.
Chocolate mousse is another recipe like crème brûlée that feels decadent, but only requires two ingredients (instead of the 4 for easy crème brûlée). That’s right, all you need for this easy recipe is chocolate and heavy cream. (A more traditional French mousse requires egg yolks and far more attention, but you’ve got things to do and eggs are expensive these days.) Make these during your lunch break so the mousse has time to set, then pull it out after dinner and top with some whipped cream. You can pair this with a Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Riesling.
Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.