Valentine's Day Cooking Help from Chef Naj

When I was in my mid-20s, navigating dating and Valentine's Day on a budget was a common challenge amongst guys my age. Cooking for your significant other at home was always less expensive, yet equally, if not more romantic than spending a large chunk of your tiny paycheck at a fancy restaurant and screwing yourself at the end of the month.

Here's a recipe I had in my early tool kit that was fresh, easy to do in front of somebody, delicious, dirt cheap, and involves a staple ingredient for many young people who have to be frugal to feed themselves: PASTA.

I call this "summer spaghetti," but only because it involves fresh tomatoes instead of canned. This can be made year-round as the ingredients can be found fresh throughout the year at any grocery store.

Summer Spaghetti

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 portions of pasta (You can use any kind of long pasta noodle you like: spaghetti, linguini, bucatini, chittara, fettuccini, angel hair, etc.)
  • 3 Tbls shaved raw garlic
  • 1 or 2 tsp FRESH CRACKED black pepper. (Always use freshly cracked pepper; the difference in taste from pre-ground is night and day.)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 6 to 7 roma tomatoes (You can also use vine or beefsteak if you'd like. If you have the extra money, some heirloom tomatoes make a nice upgrade.)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh basil (one of those small clamshell containers of basil at the grocery store is more than enough.)


  • Get your pasta water heating on your stove before you do anything, be sure to season w/ salt.
  • Cut a cross on the end of your tomatoes opposite side of the stem. When water reaches a boil, toss in tomatoes, count to 30, remove with tongs and plunge in cold/ice water bath. This will make the skin easy to remove. You don't have to do this, but I find the tomato skin to be annoying to eat. Cut tomatoes in sections to make removing seeds easy. Set aside.
  • Add your pasta to the water and begin the sauce. The sauce won't take long and will be ready around the time your pasta is ready.


  • In a large sauce pan over medium heat, add garlic and enough olive oil to coat. Move garlic around so it cooks evenly.


  •  When garlic just starts to turn color, add your tomatoes. Toss with garlic.

pasta water.jpg

  • Add about 3 tablespoons of water from your pasta pot.


  • Simmer tomatoes until they start to break down and turn into a sauce.


  • When the pasta is cooked to your liking, remove it from the water, toss in olive oil and add to your sauce pan.


  • Toss in sauce and let sit for a minute or two.



  • Turn off the heat. Add black pepper, hand-torn fresh basil and a little bit of parmesan.

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  • Toss everything together. Add salt to your liking.
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  • Plate and garnish w/ more parmesan, more hand-torn fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.


  • Most Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Sangiovese red wines will pair well with a tomato-based pasta, and you don't have to get too expensive to find a decent one.
  • Salad dressings with red wine vinegar and oregano will pair great with this. If you have some French or artisan bread, you can make some home-made croutons. Cut into cubes, toss in olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and bake on a sheet tray in a 350 degree oven until golden brown and crunchy.



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“If you are looking for variety in your school meals, meals that are fresh and flavorful that kids actually eat, then CKC has what you are looking for.”
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