There are two main requirements for a successful date night dinner: Don't mess it up, and don't take forever getting it to the table. How does a 15-minute shrimp scampi followed by an effortless chocolate mousse sound?
While this meal is so easy that it can't go wrong, a little attention to detail will hit it out of the park.
First, salt the pasta water. Unsalted pasta is bland and boring. Salted pasta tastes interesting and compliments the sauce. About one tablespoon of salt to four quarts of boiling water will do the trick. It seems like a lot, but the pasta will only absorb a little. And that little will make all the difference.
And this will sound strange, but undercook the pasta just a little bit. Simmer the noodles until they barely qualify as al dente and you still feel a bit of hardness in the very middle when you bite into a sample noodle. When added to the sauce, the pasta will cook the rest of the way and soak up flavor at the same time.
You'll also want to use good quality chocolate in the mousse. Since this cheater's mousse is only made with chocolate and cream, its success depends on the quality of the chocolate. Go for the good stuff. And buy something that you enjoy eating out of hand, as you'll probably have a few squares leftover after making the recipe.
Buy a nice bottle of wine to use in the sauce and to serve with dinner. The meal's ingredients are inexpensive, so spring for an extra-special bottle of sauvignon blanc or crisp pinot grigio to serve alongside.
Last but not least, pick up a baguette while you're at the store. Trust us, you'll want something to soak up the last spoonfuls of sauce left in the bowl.
Fifteen-minute shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta
1 pound frozen shrimp
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 shallots, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
1/2 pound angel hair pasta
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Place the frozen shrimp in a bowl of cool water to thaw for about 5 minutes. Fill a 4-quart or larger pot with water and bring it to a boil for the pasta.
Warm the olive oil and the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes. Drain the shrimp and then stir them into the pan along with the wine. Turn to coat and then spread the shrimp out into a single layer. Cook for 2 minutes and then flip the shrimp. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until the shrimp are pink and completely opaque. Reduce the heat to low.
To your pasta pot, add one tablespoon of salt for every 4-quarts of water. Add the angel hair pasta and stir gently until the noodles soften into the water. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until just barely al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the shrimp. (If the sauce has reduced too much, scoop out a little of the starchy pasta water before draining and add this to the pan so you have a half cup or so of sauce.)
Sprinkle the lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice, and parsley over the pasta and stir to coat. Taste and add salt, pepper or more lemon juice as desired. Serve immediately in individual pasta bowls.
Note: Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated for one week.
Cheater's chocolate mousse
4 ounces (1/2 cup) good-quality dark chocolate
8 ounces (1 cup) heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Optional: 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, creme de menthe, rum, bourbon or other favorite liquor
Fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or other seasonal fruit)
Chop the chocolate into small pieces with a serrated knife and transfer to a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Heat the cream and the sugar in a medium saucepan until just beginning to boil.
Pour this over the chocolate and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Gently stir with a spatula until all the chocolate has melted into the cream. (If the cream isn't quite doing the job of melting the chocolate, it's OK to microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate has melted completely.)
Cover and refrigerate the mousse base for at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to serve, stir in the liquor (if using) and beat the base with an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks like whipped cream. Scoop it into individual bowls and top with fresh fruit. The prepared mousse is best served immediately, but can be refrigerated for a short time without loss of texture.
Note: The un-whipped base for the mousse can be prepared up to a day ahead.