The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 16, 2013

When people think of romantic dining, they think Italian

By Tina Alvey
The Register-Herald

— When couples plan a romantic evening, they plan for impeccable cuisine, candlelight and soft music. Such an evening calls for ambiance: violins, violas and an occasional mandolin; bread fresh from the oven or a glass of wine: something mysterious and exotic and a touch of the unexpected.

What is romance without intimacy, sharing bites from one plate? Such an evening might include sipping gourmet coffee and discussing a favorite novel. It might be holding hands or just watching a good movie.

For some, the pinnacle of romance is privacy-securing reservations for one of the most secret tables at a favorite restaurant. And when it comes to dining out, there’s hardly anything more romantic than an evening at an Italian restaurant.

According to those who keep statistics on such trivia, when most people think of romantic dining, they think Italian —and for good reason.

Who could resist the gloriously Italian bread basket? Homemade olive bread and herb bread, toasted tomato bread and spiced rolls.

And the pastas!

Using fresh combinations of vegetables or bits of Italian sausage and homemade noodles,

Italian cooks know how to make the most out of the least. The flavors don’t rely on seasonings found in dusty cans on the far reaches of gourmet shop shelves.

A few fresh items added to some kitchen staples and even an inexperienced or simply hurrying cook can put an enjoyable meal on the table in no time. There is less shopping, less prepping, less time spent and, best of all, less cleaning up. It adds up to more enjoyment for everyone.

The least complicated dishes are the ones that your family and guests seem to like best and the ones you like to cook the most.

We never make spaghetti exactly the same way at our house. And yet, it always turns out in a delicious, pleasing fashion. Most of what we require is easy to keep on hand in our own pantry: good olive oil and dried pasta in various shapes and sizes, a jar of olives, and tomatoes. Fresh garden tomatoes are best.

Other standbys include a pound or two of yellow onions, a head of garlic, a bunch of parsley and some lemons. The secret is to have all the ingredients ready before you begin cooking because, in most cases, these dishes are done so quickly, you won’t have much time to look for the garlic or chop the parsley once the cooking begins.

Our recipes are always flexible. If green olives are unavailable, black olives will do. The same goes for other ingredients, too. Sauces range from thick and tangy to zesty and robust. Choose a sauce to fit the mood of the evening.

Romantic dinners at home are a nice gesture for your man, whether it’s a “just because” dinner or a special occasion, like a birthday or anniversary. Plus, romantic dinners at home are actually more romantic than going out to a fancy restaurant; after all, you’re alone and it’s much more intimate. However, many women — whether they consider themselves “whizzes” in the kitchen or they admit that they are novices — don’t know what to make. If this sounds like you, here are few ideas for romantic dinners at home.

First, start with drinks and appetizers to set the mood and get your taste buds warmed up. Have some wine, cocktails or non-alcoholic punch with a simple appetizer such as bruschetta, caviar on crackers, or a cheese ball or cheese-based spread with fresh pumpernickel bread.  Years ago, after she came to Hollywood and became an international film star, Sophia Loren gave the media her most sultry endorsement of Italian food when she reportedly confided: “All you see, I owe to pasta.”

Well, maybe nobody can vouch 100 percent for the screen siren’s remark, but there is considerable evidence that health-faddish men and women around the world have taken pasta to their hearts and stomachs. And for whatever reason, Italians seem to know what tastes good and what is good for the body — and the soul.

Whether you make your own spaghetti sauce from scratch, or whether you just open up a jar of Ragu, you can always enhance the entree with your own additives and style.  

After all, what could be more romantic when it comes to dining with that special someone? What could be more romantic than gazing fondly into each other’s eyes and sharing intimate talk over a plate of luscious spaghetti?

Let the games begin.


Top of the morning!

— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald. E-mail: