Help Me Find a Good Starter for Valentine's Day Dinner

Good Questions

Q: This is the first time I'm able to cook for Valentine's dinner. My partner and I haven't had a kitchen to ourselves in the past. I cook dinner every night but I want to put more effort into presentation and courses for this night. So far I'm set on the main dish — linguine alla vongole with homemade pasta, and I'm thinking about a halloumi flambé with date paste and reduced balsamic for dessert since I don't like to bake.

I want a starter though, and I need suggestions! We eat seafood but not any other meat. I'm intrigued by a Parmesan basket but not sure what to fill it with, and we're currently sick of salad. Suggestions for a minimal ingredient cocktail also appreciated (low budget!).

Sent by Quinn

Editor: Quinn, we asked for help on your question from our Twitter crowd, and here are a few things they suggested:

• From xanthie: Seared scallops over roasted beets, cut into circles (or hearts), with a orange-fennel beurre blanc.
• From TheRunawaySpoon: Champagne risotto (See recipe)
• From yasminATlesauce: Porcini-fried rapini (See recipe)
• From Savour: Salad with arugula, vinaigrette, aged pecorino or goat cheese drizzled with honey, or tomato soup with a dollop of pesto.

We love all these ideas! Tomato soup could be an especially nice starter to your pasta. Here are some other links, including one for the spicy seared scallops pictured above. You could also try a fennel salad in your Parmesan baskets; perhaps the fresh taste of fennel would break up the salad boredom a bit?

Spicy Seared Scallops at Martha Stewart
Heart-Shaped Appetizers, also at Martha Stewart
Crab and Fennel Salad at Gourmet
My Heart Beets for You - Heart-shaped beets!

Also, here is Nora's roundup of great Valentine's cocktails today:

A Bouquet of 12 Valentine's Drink Ideas

Readers, any more good ideas for Quinn?

Related: Good Recipes for Small-Portioned Sweet Treats for Two?

(Image: Martha Stewart)