I cringe when I remember the first night I cooked for my boyfriend. I had to stay at work longer than expected to wrap up an urgent project and afterward was rushing to the grocery store to grab ingredients for easy date night recipes that didn’t exist yet.
It was one of those weeks where I’d completely overcommitted myself and forgotten I had invited him (and a friend of his I’d never met) over for dinner. Had I known then that his love language was tacos I would have just grabbed something easy on the way home and played it safe. Nope. Instead, this occasion seemed like high time to grab some ambiguous white fish from the market I had never made before and just go for it.
Now we laugh about the time we all sat around the table and picked at a flavorless piece of fish that was definitely undercooked. We ended up resorting to wine and leftover pasta, and though I didn’t impress anyone, I’ll always look back on that night as one of the first times we truly connected. Food aside, the real purpose of cooking with the people that matter to us is connecting with one another and making memories.
After my unsuccessful trial run, I’ve landed on the perfect criteria for a great date night recipe. With many of us celebrating Valentine’s day at home this year, the last thing we all need is a complicated recipe (or lack thereof) to distract us from having a good time. Date night recipes should be relatively easy, fun, and feel like a step up from your regular week-night rotation.
With this in mind, we’ve rounded up the best easy date night recipes that feel fancy but allow you to have fun in the kitchen without breaking a sweat. From bolognese to lamb chops, spice things up with one of these easy date night recipes that feel special and taste delicious.
Bottle of Wine Braised Brisket by The Defined Dish
Why We Love It: One of my friends deemed this dish “the best meal she’s ever had.” She recommends serving it over this creamy mushroom risotto for a fancy, indulgent dinner you won’t believe you made yourself.
Hero Ingredient: There’s nothing more comforting than a dutch oven sitting on the stove, permeating the air with the mouth-watering scent of braised meat. In this recipe, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves amplify that irresistible smell that will have you counting down the minutes until dinner.
Vegetarian Pasta Bolognese
Why We Love It: One of Camille’s favorites, she likens this pasta to “a hug wrapped up around each twirl of your fork.” Plus, the fact that it’s a pantry staple that can be easily reinvented with sauces, herbs, veggies, and cheeses makes it perfect for a date night at home.
Hero Ingredient: Nutrient-packed mushrooms soak up all the rich flavors of this can’t-believe-it’s-vegetarian bolognese sauce for the perfect nugget of flavor in each bite.
Ginger Chicken Pho by Half-Baked Harvest
Why We Love It: A date-night dinner should be both comforting and relatively easy to cook so you can just focus on having a good time with your partner. Plus, the last thing we all need is something more to stress about, right? This easy pho is packed with colorful, healthy ingredients that are just as fun to arrange as they are to enjoy.
Hero Ingredient: Ginger, garlic, and herbs are the star ingredients of this pho with star anise, cinnamon, and chile peppers bringing the steamy broth to life. It’s all the flavor you expect from a day-long broth in 30 minutes… need we say more?
Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with Fresh Ricotta by Seamus Mullen
Why We Love It: We trust any recipe coming from chef Seamus Mullen. These lamb meatballs in tomato sauce will not disappoint, especially when paired with whole roasted cauliflower or this zesty radish, fennel, & grapefruit salad.
Hero Ingredient: This recipe is so perfectly assembled that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it great. But, if we had to choose a hero ingredient, it’d have to be the ricotta. Fresh, creamy, and cooling, ricotta is the finesse that elevates this dish to the max.
Chicken Parmesan by What’s Gaby Cooking
Why We Love It: Making breaded-anything isn’t a solo effort, and is best done as a team. Serve this flavorful, crispy pan-fried chicken over a bowl of pasta for a classic Italian feast.
Hero Ingredient: If you have the time, making your own tomato sauce is an option—but so is using your favorite store-bought sauce! Either way, this chicken parmesan is a real winner.
Dairy-Free Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta With Bacon & Crispy Sage
Why We Love It: Nothing says special occasion quite like some creamy, indulgent pasta, but bonus points for when it’s actually healthy. This dish is a healthier take on grown-up mac ‘n cheese, with a decadently dairy-free sauce over soft, angel hair noodles.
Hero Ingredient: The fried sage leaves on this pasta are as aromatic as they are delicious.
Lobster Ravioli by The Defined Dish
Why We Love It: Whether it’s a first course or the main dish, this lobster ravioli is bound to steal the show. Believe it or not, this one comes together in under 40 minutes and is surprisingly uncomplicated.
Hero Ingredient: A pinch of saffron brings an earthy, floral taste to these ravioli that you won’t want to miss.
Sheet Pan Halibut With Italian Salsa Verde and Asparagus by The Defined Dish
Why We Love It: If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, a flaky, white fish never disappoints. This sheet pan halibut and Italian salsa verde sauce are a match made in heaven and come together with minimal effort.
Hero Ingredient: This salsa verde is essentially an Italian chimichurri sauce with flavors of parsley, garlic, and anchovies. Make extra to use on your morning eggs, grilled chicken, or roasted veggies—you won’t regret it.
Brown Butter Scallops With Parmesan Risotto by Pinch of Yum
Why We Love It: While risotto can require some extra attention, this recipe is worth it. Plus, more time for you to sip your wine and chat while slowly stirring this creamy deliciousness. When you add in these seared scallops at the end, you’ve got yourself a restaurant-worthy dish that’s perfect for a cozy night in.
Hero Ingredient: This impressive date night dish gets a lot of love from the brown butter drizzle that tops it. It’s rich, nutty, and just absolutely divine.
Goat-cheese Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates With Honey by Half-Baked Harvest
Why We Love It: This is one of my favorite appetizers ever for any special occasion. These bacon-wrapped dates are crispy, sweet, decadent and just to die for. They’re a fun starter to assemble, cook and enjoy together while dinner is still in the works.
Hero Ingredient: Two words: rosemary honey. The sweet, spicy, herby goodness that tops each of these dates makes the perfect appetizer for any date night dinner.
Steak Frites with Tarragon Aioli by The Defined Dish
Why We Love It: You can sign me up for any date that involves fries. This healthy, homemade take on a classic measures up to the steak frites at any favorite french restaurant.
Hero Ingredient: I’ve always been pro-aioli when it comes to french fries and this one is made even better by tarragon. It’s the dipping sauce you’ll come to crave.
Butternut Squash Pizza With Arugula & Almond Ricotta
Why We Love It: Pizza is a celebratory food, plain and simple. There’s something about a good pizza that just bonds people together. This butternut squash pizza is savory and sweet and earns bonus points for being both gluten and dairy-free.
Hero Ingredient: A drizzle of balsamic glaze is the tangy topping that perfectly finishes this pizza. It’s sweet, savory, and all-around delicious… and a must-try for your next date night.
Vegetable Lasagna by What’s Gaby Cooking
Why We Love It: Lasagna is truly the ultimate comfort food, and this recipe nails the veggie version. It takes a little while to cook, so enjoy some wine and snacks while you soak up the delicious aroma that will fill your house while it bakes in the oven.
Hero Ingredient: Basil vinaigrette cuts through the gooey layers of cheese and marinara sauce for a taste of freshness in each bite. Double this batch to use on toast, pasta, salads, or anything that could use a little elevation.
Lime-y Chicken Tacos With Jicama, Avocado, & Mint by Camille Styles
Why We Love It: There’s nothing more laid back and fun than taco night in my opinion. Camille claims these lime-y chicken tacos might be her last meal – they’re that good. Especially when paired with a homemade margarita.
Hero Ingredient: It seems like almost anything can be made better with the right aioli, which is definitely the case with these tacos. Lime-y chipotle aioli takes these tacos from amazing to practically unbeatable. They’re a must-try.
Easy Pan-Seared Lamb Chops With Mint Chimichurri by The Defined Dish
Why We Love It: Lamb chops make for a great special occasion dish. Even though they can be a little bit of a splurge at the grocery, cooking them is pretty much foolproof. This dish comes together quickly and you’ll want to put this mint chimichurri sauce on everything, trust me.
Hero Ingredient: This mint chimichurri is seriously no joke. It’s fresh, sharp, and easy to put together for the perfect companion to these lamb chops. Drizzle a little over these greek potatoes for a simple-but-elegant date night dinner.
Rigatoni With Brussels Sprouts & Kale Pesto
Why We Love It: This pasta is just good. So good, in fact, that Camille says the first time she made it, she was “so swept away by the perfection of the dish, there simply were no words.” It’s perfectly balanced, comforting, and flavorful for date night and will leave you wanting leftovers.
Hero Ingredient: The toasted walnuts on this swoon-worthy pasta bring an unexpected yet appreciated crunch that officially earned it a spot in my recipe rotation. Sprinkle generously and enjoy!
Sweet & Spicy Braised Short Ribs
Why We Love It: These braised short ribs are the perfect low-effort, high-reward main that comes together with minimal hands-on time. Serve them with these cauliflower mashed potatoes for a simple and flavorful meal you’ll thank us for later.
Hero Ingredient: Chimichurri sauce cuts through the richness of these ribs to make a really well-balanced flavor profile. And, it seeps into whatever creamy counterpart you choose to serve under the ribs, which is always a plus.
Orange-Chili Glazed Pork Tenderloin With Carrot Pesto and Grilled Carrots
Why We Love It: This recipe takes you outside to the grill, which is never a bad thing in my opinion. Sipping on a cold cocktail or chilled rosé while the smell of grilled food fills the air? Sounds like a pretty ideal date night to me.
Hero Ingredient: Sweet and spicy chargrilled carrot pesto may sound weird, but one bite will win you over—trust me.
Pistachio Crusted Halibut With Broccolini
Why We Love It: Once again, halibut shines as a light, flaky fish that goes well with just about anything. In this case, it’s coated in nutty pistachios and baked to perfection.
Hero Ingredient: Roasted broccolini is the best sidekick to the buttery fish and ushers in a world of fresh flavor.
Coconut Curry With Sweet Potato, Lemongrass & Chicken
Why We Love It: There’s nothing more comforting than a warm bowl of perfectly-spiced curry with tender sweet potatoes and chicken. This bowl of goodness checks all the boxes for simple, easy to make, and delicious.
Hero Ingredient: A generous dose of fresh herbs and lime juice simply make this dish. Fresh, herby flavor with a bit of lime zing make this dish worthy of any date night. Use a heavy hand with these edible accessories and enjoy!
What’s your favorite date night recipe? Share the link with us below!
This post was originally published on February 12, 2021, and has since been updated.
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