Valentine's Day

A Deliciously Bitter Valentine’s Menu from Jennifer McLagan

updated Jun 9, 2019
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(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Valentine’s Day provides you with an opportunity to cook a special meal for that important person in your life. However, too often suggested menus are full of heavy sauces, sugary red candies, and sweet chocolate and berries. Why such childlike tastes? This year, eschew those saccharine suggestions and be daring.

Embrace bitterness, a flavor that combines danger and excitement. It’s the perfect way to spark romance.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

This Valentine’s meal is deliberately crafted to provide a hint of richness, a surprising use of chocolate, and a colorful red dessert, all with a touch of bitterness. It’s easy to cook and will give you the chance to show just how grown up you are. Don’t be afraid — not one of these dishes is bitter. Rather, each is balanced and intriguing. This delicious meal will impress your lucky amour and reveal your sophistication and cultured palate.

Remember that all bitter foods have an added benefit: they aid digestion. As a result, this meal will leave you satisfied, but not stuffed, you’ll be ready to enjoy the rest of your evening any way you choose. Take a walk on the wild side and dare to share your evening with the taste that is more fun to cook and eat than all the others — bitter.

The Menu

Dessert: Campari Granita

The Recipes

Your Shopping List

To buy at the grocery store:

  • Treviso radicchio (2 heads, about 14 ounces total)
  • Fresh-squeezed orange juice (1 cup or 3 to 4 oranges)
  • Lemon (1)
  • Lamb rack (1 1/2 pounds, frenched)
  • Creamy cow’s milk cheese (2 1/2 ounces)
  • Lamb stock or beef stock (1 cup)
  • 70% dark chocolate (1/2 ounce)
  • Campari (1/2 cup)

In your pantry — check to make sure you have these things:

  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt or sea salt
  • Black pepper
(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Your Cooking Plan

What to Prep Ahead

  • Make the Campari Granita: It takes several hours for the granita to freeze, so start this in the morning, or make it up to 3 days ahead.

Dinner Timeline


  • Remove the lamb from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature for about half an hour.
  • Preheat the oven.
  • Set the table and open a bottle of wine.


  • Sear the lamb on all sides in a hot skillet.


  • Roast the lamb in the oven.


  • Rest the lamb.
  • Begin preparing the chocolate-pepper sauce while the lamb rests.


  • While the sauce reduces, grill the radicchio in a cast iron pan on a separate burner. (If you’d rather grill the radicchio on an outdoor grill, begin preheating the grill while the lamb is roasting.)


  • Whisk the chocolate and pepper into the sauce.
  • Plate the lamb and radicchio salad. Cut the lamb into individual pieces and arrange on a plate. Top with the chocolate-pepper sauce. Arrange the radicchio on separate plates and finish with the creamy cheese and balsamic vinegar.


  • Dinner is served! When ready for dessert, scoop the campari granita into bowls or shallow glasses and serve.
(Image credit: Ten Speed Press)

→ Buy Jennifer’s Book! Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan

→ Read more of Jennifer’s writing on her blog.