Food & Drink

Taste the love in every bite

Home cooking, it's been said, is the way to a man's heart. And what woman wouldn't be pleased by a homemade meal prepared by the man in her life?

If the economy has put a chill on your Valentine's Day plans, you can opt for a lovely meal at home, with money left for a dozen roses.

Men and women who aren't accomplished cooks can make an Italian dinner easily. There are so many choices in pastas and tomato sauces that you can mix and match and come up with your own creations.

Choices for the main dish include beef, sausage, chicken, seafood and vegetables. The shape of the pasta can change the look of a dish, and the store-bought tomato sauce can make or break the flavor.

Most cooks buy a jarred sauce when making an Italian dish, and they have a favorite brand. But if you're not pleased with the one you buy most often, go by what the experts at America's Test Kitchen recommend. They rated Bertolli tomato and basil sauce tops because it had "a good balance of flavors," "a nice chunky texture" and tasted "the most like fresh-cooked tomatoes."

It's fun to take a chance on some unfamiliar brands. Recently, Home Goods in Woodhill Shopping Center had a variety of Napa Valley Harvest pasta sauces. The artichoke and sweet red pepper pasta sauce, at $4.99 for a 24-ounce jar (suggested retail is $7.69), is one of the best sauces I've found.

When making pasta dishes, be sure to choose a pasta shape and sauce that complement each other. Thin, delicate pastas like angel hair or thin spaghetti should be served with light, thin sauces. Thicker pasta shapes, like fettuccine, work well with heavier sauces. Pasta shapes with holes or ridges, like mostaccioli or radiatore, are perfect for chunkier sauces, according to the National Pasta Association.

We've selected a Valentine's Day menu that is easy to prepare and affordable. Set the table with your best dinnerware, nicest linens, flowers and candles. Play your sweetheart's favorite music, and start cooking together.

Here's a simple menu: hearts of romaine salad, easy lasagna, garlic bread and rustic red tart or raspberry sorbet.

The salad calls for a gorgonzola dressing, but you can use a store-bought one if you prefer. The easy lasagna is made with refrigerated ravioli layered with fresh spinach, pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese. The tart can be made a day ahead, and if there's not enough time for a homemade dessert, simply spoon raspberry sorbet into a fancy goblet or dessert dish and jazz it up with a couple of rolled wafer cookies.