A Sweet Valentine’s Day Menu from Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion for a date night in! No need to make a reservation months in advance or fight with your friends over a babysitter. Just stay in, relax, eat good food, and linger at the table for hours.

A good Valentine’s menu should feel special — somehow different than your everyday meals, especially when you are staying in for the occasion. A special meal doesn’t mean you have to spend all day in the kitchen. Planning ahead is key here — you’ll have just a few things to do to bring the meal together before the date.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

This menu feels a bit indulgent (which is how Valentine’s Day should feel), but it won’t have you spending hours in the kitchen. If you are one to plan ahead, you can make the brownies the day before your dinner, make the salad and Parmesan frico earlier in the day, and then save the pasta for just before dinner. Then simply sit back, pour a couple of glasses of wine, and enjoy. You’ve got the best table and no one can kick you out.

Make your date night in feel really special by setting the table, adding flowers and candles to the setting, and even sending a card a few days before Valentine’s to ask out your date. That shows your intention and that this evening has thought behind it.

The Menu

Main Course: Cacio e Pepe

The Recipes

Your Shopping List

What to buy at the store:

  • Lacinato kale (1 bunch)
  • Small shallot (1)
  • Pink Lady or other tart apple (1)
  • Lemon (1)
  • Unsalted butter (3 sticks/12 ounces)
  • Large eggs (3)
  • Parmesan cheese (4 1/4 ounces)
  • Pecorino (1 3/4 ounce)
  • Pancetta (4 ounces)
  • Dried currants (1/4 cup)
  • Bittersweet chocolate (3 ounces)
  • Cocoa powder (1/2 cup)
  • Instant espresso powder (optional, 1/2 teaspoon)
  • Spaghetti or bucatini (8 ounces)

Pantry staples — double check that you have these on hand:

  • Smooth peanut butter (3/4 cup)
  • Dijon mustard (1 teaspoon)
  • Red wine vinegar (2 teaspoons)
  • Granulated sugar (1 1/2 cups)
  • Confectioners sugar (1/3 cup)
  • All-purpose flour (1/2 cup)
  • Vanilla extract (1 tablespoon)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Flakey sea salt or finishing salt
  • Black pepper
(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Your Cooking Plan

What to Prep Ahead

  • Make the brownies: These can be baked and frosted up to three days in advance. (Just try to resist eating all of them!)
  • Make the Parmesan frico: These frico for the Cacio e Pepe can also be prepared up to three days in advance.

If you don’t do these things in the days leading up to your meal, make them the first thing you do when you head into the kitchen on Valentine’s Day. The brownies will take about an hour and the frico will take 15 to 20 minutes.

Dinner Timeline


  • Prep the pancetta, kale, shallot, and apple for the Kale Salad. Toss the apples with a little lemon juice to keep them from browning until you’re ready to use them.
  • Shred the pecorino for the Cacio e Pepe.


  • Set the table and open a bottle of wine!


  • Begin making the warm pancetta vinaigrette for the kale salad.
  • While the pancetta and shallots cook for the salad, put a pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.


  • When the pancetta vinaigrette for the kale salad is ready, set it aside, covered.
  • When the water is boiling, begin cooking the pasta for the Cacio e Pepe. Set a timer to remind yourself that it’s cooking. Don’t forget to scoop out a little pasta water to use in the finished dish.
  • While the pasta cooks, make the sauce for the Cacio e Pepe.


  • When the pasta is ready, transfer it directly to the skillet with the sauce and toss to combine.


  • Check the pancetta vinaigrette and warm it briefly if needed. Then toss the vinaigrette with the kale and other salad ingredients.


  • Plate the Kale Salad and the Cacio e Pepe.


  • Dinner is served!
(Image credit: Running Press)

→ Buy Ashley’s Book! Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez

→ Read more of Ashley’s writing on her blog: Not Without Salt

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