It was a very cold Saturday night in January, five years ago. I took the bus and subway from New Jersey, where I was living at the time, and walked ten blocks to Daniel's apartment in Brooklyn. He had invited me over for dinner. It was our fifth date.
Dates one through four had been friendly, but somewhat tentative on my part. I hadn't quite made up my mind about the guy. Dan was one of the smartest people I had ever met, unfailingly nice, and pretty darn cute, but we knew each other in high school and, well, high school memories are hard to put behind you. Bad haircuts, embarrassing moments, you know.
He threw me a curve ball with dinner. What was this, asking me to come over for dinner before I offered to cook for him? Me, the girl who charmed so many boyfriends with baked goods and late-night suppers, who prides herself on a home-cooked meal. Food was my thing! It seemed that this guy had something to prove. So I got dressed up and decided to see what would happen. Dessert, which I offered to bring, was homemade miniature lemon tarts carefully packed in a Tupperware. Feeling seductive, I topped each one with a raspberry.
Dinner was still very much in progress when I arrived. I knew this immediately because Dan's kitchen and bedroom and work space and living room were all apparent in a single glance. He told me he had a studio apartment, but boyfriend was living small.
The kitchen was incredible. It consisted of a stove burner on top of a mini fridge, a tiny oven that he never used because it emitted the odor of gas, a smallish sink, and no counter space to speak of. Ingredients were piled on top of a microwave atop a kitchen cart. Maybe it was the size of the apartment, but there seemed to be different parts of dinner spread out everywhere. Normally I would have offered to help but there was nowhere to stand in the kitchen area. And there wasn't a place to sit other than his bed and a desk chair, so I sat at his desk and watched him. Which probably didn't make him feel very comfortable.
In between bursts of conversation, he cooked. He stood on tiptoe to chop parsley on top of the microwave. He seared scallops in a hot pan, smoking up the apartment for a bit. He handed me a bottle of white wine to uncork as he minced some garlic. He whisked lemon juice and olive oil together in a juice glass to make salad dressing. This is interesting, I thought. This is cute. Very cute.
He poured me a glass of wine, and a glass for himself. Which I didn't think twice about at the time, but now I know he doesn't drink. Something sizzling in a pan started to smell really good. I sipped my wine and smiled. This adorable guy was working up a sweat making dinner for me in this ridiculously tiny kitchen. Who would have thought?
After he exuded a considerable amount of energy, dinner was served. Since there wasn't a proper surface to eat on, he set out glasses and cutlery on the floor and we sat across from each other, bowls on our laps. In the bowl was a tangle of linguine with perfectly browned scallops, a whisper of wine and butter, a sprinkling of chili flakes and parsley. I took a bite. The dish was thoughtful, balanced, easy on the eyes--a lot like the guy sitting across from me. I thought back to food past boyfriends had made for me. All I could remember were fairly routine meals of pasta in jarred tomato sauce, the occasional batch of cookies. And cocktails. This was eye-opening.
We ate and talked. Dan finished his glass of wine. Prince played in the background, which made me smile. Sometimes guys can be so obvious. I mean, Prince, wine, a romantic, homemade dinner? Way to lay it on thick. But it worked. By the end of the meal, I was convinced. I knew I wanted to share more meals with this person, hold hands across the table, eavesdrop on the people sitting next to us, go home together at the end of the night. And now, on our two-year wedding anniversary, that's still all I ever want to do.
He completely won me over with scallops and pasta. We didn't get to the lemon tarts but they were delicious for breakfast the next morning.
Buttered taglierini with seared scallops, white wine, chile, and parsley
This recipe is from Jamie Oliver's first book The Naked Chef. Oliver writes, "This dish only takes minutes to cook." Obviously, that depends on your kitchen. A note about the pasta, taglierini is a flat, long noodle that is narrower than tagliatelli. If you can't find either, linguine or spaghetti will be fine. As you can see, I used bay scallops, which added a nice sweetness.
(Serves 4 people)
12 scallops, trimmed with roe on or off to your preference (or 1 1/2 lbs. bay scallops)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 medium-sized fresh red chiles, seeded and finely chopped (or 1 Tbsp. red chile flakes)
3/4 cup white wine
1 lb. taglierini (or linguine)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup butter
salt and pepper
On a board, place each scallop on its flat side and slice in half. Put the olive oil into a hot pan and add the scallops, garlic, and chile, which will sear and sizzle right away. As soon as the scallops have colored on one side, pour in the wine, letting it reduce slightly. Meanwhile, cook the taglierini in boiling salted water until al dente. Add the pasta to the scallops with the parsley and butter and remove from the heat. Toss and taste for seasoning. Serve.