When Skye McAlpine’s A Table For Friends: The Art Of Cooking For Two Or Twenty came out in the summer of 2020, I found myself flipping absentmindedly through its pages, daydreaming about serving my nearest and dearest her “Italian-ish” recipes: chilled almond soup, a torta di maccheroni inspired by Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, lavender honey pannacotta… I wanted there to be at least a dozen of us together around an honest-to-god table—hell, make it two dozen—with candles and bowls full of tulips and an Oeuvres Sensibles cloth. Then, something would pull me back down to earth, and I would go out to meet a single, masked friend on a park bench, passing a hip flask back and forth while we spoke about vaccines, then lateral flow tests, then vaccines again.
As it turns out, McAlpine was feeling similarly bleak at that point in time, in spite of her cookbook’s success. “I found that I wasn’t enjoying cooking as much as I normally do,” she admits as she prepares to release her follow-up, A Table Full Of Love: Recipes To Comfort, Seduce, Celebrate & Everything Else In Between, later this month. “The joy of food for me is about the people we share it with more than anything else.” With that realisation, she “started thinking about the different kinds of love that make up our lives and how we cook differently to express those feelings, whether that’s finding the strength to cook a pasta for your children after a long day at work, whisking up a sexy dinner for two on a date night, celebrating a friend you love with a birthday cake, or caring for people when they’re down by baking cookies for them.”
And so the concept for A Table Full Of Love was born, with the cookbook’s recipes divided by intention: to comfort, spoil, nourish, or seduce. It’s the latter category, of course, that most people will be intrigued by. “Cooking for someone you don’t yet know so well and who you think you might want to get to know better can feel daunting, but on a practical level, at least, it’s much easier than cooking for a crowd, because the maths work in your favour,” McAlpine counsels in the book. Her first tip: choose dishes you can share, which will look “generous and beautiful” on the table. “Above all, keep the cooking really simple and resist the overwhelming temptation to cook-to-impress.”
So what will she be making for Valentine’s Day this year? “I love really spoiling flavours for date night food: buttery puff pastry topped with sharp rhubarb and heaps of golden, melted cheddar, or crisp roasted duck legs cooked with slices of caramelised winter citrus and thinly sliced potatoes. And, given the choice, I almost always go for chocolate for pudding… This year I’ll be making tiramisu (which is the first thing I ever cooked for my husband when we first met as college freshers). I make it with coffee and mascarpone and dollops of Nutella. It’s unbelievably indulgent.” Looking for something a little lighter? Try rustling up McAlpine’s Very Sexy Cocktail, below.
A Very Sexy Cocktail
This is an adaptation of Amber Guinness’s “Pink Wink” cocktail from her beautiful book A House Party in Tuscany. It’s the pinkness of it, that blushing red, as much as the “wink” that I love and that somehow seems so appropriate for date nights. You can make this with straight pomegranate juice, which will give you a deeper colour alongside a richer, heavier flavour, or I especially like it mixed with sparkling pomegranate and elderflower pressé, which tastes every bit as delicate as it sounds. Either way, it’s a very sexy cocktail with just the right amount of bitter and just the right amount of subtle sweetness to it.
- 500ml prosecco
- 750ml pomegranate and elderflower pressé, or 660ml pomegranate juice
- 40ml Campari
Pour all the ingredients into a jug, mix with a cocktail spoon, and chill until you’re ready to drink it. Pour over ice to serve.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.