It Takes Two: Cooking Projects for You and Your Valentine

Cooking together this Valentine's Day? Here are some projects that were practically made for two.

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Let's make one thing clear right out of the gate: Cooking as a couple isn't for everyone. (We published a whole essay about this, and also had our loved ones tell all.) Maybe neither of you has our sky-high standards in the kitchen, but successfully assembling a dinner together is one of those projects that tend to pull the veil off a relationship, exposing its tender spots of tension: needs for control or approval, tiny currents of judginess, or thin competitive streaks. Even absent the complexity introduced by romance, deeply intertwined lives, and intimate knowledge of each other's foibles, suddenly teaming up on a task that you're used to doing alone can be a tough row to hoe—think of workplace collaboration, or The Amazing Race. In other words: You've been warned.

But! You've clicked on this article, you've read this far, and you're a grown-up (we hope) who (we'll assume) can point to the strength of your relationship and/or past triumphant team-cooking experiences as ample counterevidence. You already know that making a meal together can be a lovely expression of love. You're here for recipes, not marriage advice! Well, fine.

While you can split up the duties required of almost any dish, some projects make more sense for this purpose than others. Some of these recipes won't make entrées, much less full meals, but we've included them because they provide good opportunities for collaboration, and because cooking projects can be enjoyable and worthwhile even if they don't directly result in dinner. Pour a couple of glasses of wine and peruse this list together now, then choose a project (or two!) to get started on.

Pasta, All Ways

The Best Fresh Pasta Sheets

Vicky Wasik

There's nothing like rolling and cutting your own fresh pasta dough to give you and your loved one a terrific feeling of personal accomplishment. It'll also result in a far tastier product than you'll be able to buy at the vast majority of stores. One person can handle making the dough, sure, but kneading it is time-consuming, so it's a good candidate for dividing between partners. If you're using a manual pasta roller, it also helps to have one person feeding the dough in while the other turns the crank. If you're lucky enough to have a stand mixer attachment for making pasta, well, take turns standing there and looking pretty. (Speaking of looking pretty: Incorporating beet purée is an easy way to turn your pasta a vibrant shade of pink that's made for Valentine's Day, without imparting any noticeable beet flavor.)

This recipe makes pasta sheets that are ideal for slicing into linguine or fettuccine. Looking for something more involved? May we suggest...

Ravioli and Tortellini

Vicky Wasik

If you and your valentine still have energy to burn after rolling out that homemade pasta dough, there's nothing stopping you from turning it into an impressive spread of mushroom tortellini, ravioli filled with ricotta or butternut squash and blue cheese, or—for the high achievers among you—an eye-popping dish of uovo in raviolo, extra-large ravioli filled with creamy ricotta and a soft-yolked egg. You will probably need a ravioli mold, or at least a fluted pastry wheel, when it's time to cut the dough shapes, and you'll definitely want both sets of hands available for portioning out the filling. If you're making standard ravioli or tortellini, by all means enjoy your work for dinner in the evening, but make enough to freeze and eat later, too.

Stuffed Shells

Vicky Wasik

Want something a little softer and easier? A filled pasta that's not quite as handcrafted, but still delicious, one that'll leave you plenty of time for drinking wine and playing video games? Try our classic ricotta- and spinach-stuffed shells, or this incredible version filled with crab, shrimp, and scallops, a bit like the love child of crab cakes and pasta Alfredo. Both of them start with store-bought dried pasta, but will still go a lot faster when you've got two people to do the stuffing.

Ricotta Gnudi

J. Kenji López-Alt

Gnudi comes from the old Tuscan-language equivalent of the word for "naked" in Italian, a name that's both thematically appropriate for Valentine's and practically descriptive of the ricotta gnudi: dumpling-like spheres of soft and creamy ricotta that lack a true pasta shell. Instead, they're individually coated in a layer of semolina flour—a step that's made quicker and easier with a partner—then allowed to sit until the thinnest of skins form on their exteriors. You'll need to plan ahead for that step, as it can take a few days. But above all, don't skimp on the quality of the ricotta! With barely a fig leaf of pasta to cover it, so to speak, the cheese is highly exposed, which means it needs to be in top form. If excellent ricotta that contains no gums or stabilizers, isn't available commercially where you live, tack on a bonus cooking project by making your own—it's much easier than you think.

Homemade Ramen

Pile of ramen noodles
Vicky Wasik

Homemade ramen beats store-bought any day, so why not take it on with your partner? Our ramen guide walks you through each step, from mixing and cutting to drying and cooking. You can divide up the work just like with the pasta, either taking turns with a stand mixer attachment or choosing between the two roles if using a manual pasta roller. If you plan to enjoy these noodles on Valentine's Day, you'll want to make them a day ahead since both their texture and flavor improve significantly when slightly aged. But if you just can't wait to slurp down a bowl, you can go for this version that uses AP flour instead of bread flour and comes together in just about two hours. A fresh serving of noodles can be served in everything from shoyu ramen to miso tori paitan and mazemen—we've got a host of recipes to help you build the perfect bowl.

Homemade Mozzarella

Vicky Wasik

High-quality fresh mozzarella—those delicate, moist orbs with a mild flavor of little more than good milk—can be hard to come by if you don't live in Italy, or, at least, within close range of a well-supplied Italian grocery. But armed with nonhomogenized, low-temperature-pasteurized milk (best obtained from a local farmers market), a couple of specialty ingredients you can order online, and a thorough reading of our explanation, you can take matters into your own hands—literally. The teaming-up part comes when it's time to stretch and shape the curd: After it's been divided, both of you can stretch and lovingly shape your own balls of mozz before lowering them into whey to rest. For maximum collaboration, shape the cheese into tiny bocconcini instead of full-size balls, the better to pop into each other's mouths right after they're made. No, really: Eat these immediately, totally naked (the cheese, we mean, but y'all do y'all!), or with just a sprinkling of sea salt. Don't even think about putting them in the fridge for later—true love might wait, but fresh mozzarella does not.

A Dumpling Feast

Pan-fried gyoza on a bamboo mat next to shredded cabbage
J. Kenji López-Alt

With the help of store-bought wonton wrappers, making your own dumpling feast becomes as simple as whipping up the filling and starting up a two-person assembly line: one person to drop filling by the spoonful into each dumpling skin, the other to wet the edges, press, and seal. (For the sake of conjugal harmony, be sure to switch roles now and then, since partner #2 does the lion's share of the work here.) We've got a number of recipes that start with store-bought wrappers, for dumplings as invitingly easy as they are tasty: pan-fried vegetable dumplings stuffed with wood ear mushrooms, five-spice tofu, and seitan; cute little shrimp and pork siu mai, made extra rich with pork fat mixed into the filling; Japanese pork and cabbage gyoza; and Sichuan-style wontons that pack a punch with hot, sour, sweet, and savory flavors. (Don't forget the dipping sauces, too!)

Not enough of a challenge for you, unstoppable power couple that you are? Try your hands at dumplings that are homemade from start to finish, including the wrappers—like diaphanous har gow crammed with plump shrimp, or hearty Taiwanese pan-fried leek buns (shui jian bao). Perhaps the crowning achievement in a homemade-dumpling résumé, if there is such a thing, is xiao long bao, or soup dumplings: twist-topped bundles of dough hiding a liquid center of broth that gushes when you bite into it. Though they're not all that difficult to make, they do rely on the gelatin content of homemade broth, so get ready for some extra canoodling over a mound of chicken backs.

Of course, you can always opt for sini manti, an Armenian preparation of crispy, crunchy baked lamb dumplings in an aromatic broth. The dough is made from scratch, so you can split the tasks of rolling, cutting, filling, and shaping between the two of you.

You can find even more homemade-dumpling recipes to try out, either solo or together, here.

Tamales

Joshua Bousel

Yes, tamales have a reputation, and a pretty well-deserved one at that, for being terribly labor-intensive. But dammit, is it ever hard to come by a truly good tamale—light, flavorful masa dough wrapped around a savory core of fillings—in the US, unless you live in one of a very few places with strong Mexican-American influences...or unless you have a special someone to help you make them at home. Our guide smooths the way for you by describing the testing process in detail and including photographs of each step in the assembly process. With help from his wife, Josh was able to put together 60 tamales in under half an hour before steaming them or freezing for later. Choose a filling of red chili with chicken, roasted peppers and Oaxaca cheese, or green chili with pork.

Sushi

A sushi mat being used to roll sushi.
J. Kenji López-Alt

Making makizushi (sushi rolls) is one of the most enjoyable yet approachable hands-on cooking projects you can dream up. It's less humdrum than filling dumplings or assembling tamales, and, while it does take a bit of practice and maybe just a smidge of artistry, don't be intimidated! Equipped with a couple of bamboo rolling mats for turning out tight, even rolls, you'll be proudly snapping selfies with your very own maki rolls in short order. Look for fresh, soft, deep-green nori sheets, and, of course, use only the freshest raw fish you can find.

Spring Rolls

J. Kenji López-Alt

Though many American eaters associate the name with the crispy, golden-fried sticks from Thai takeout menus, "spring rolls" is a catchall term that encompasses a wide range of filled-and-rolled appetizers, including the lighter, greener version pictured above. Our vegan crispy tofu spring rolls are a great option for you and your partner. You can set out a platter of filling options—this recipe calls for fried tofu matchsticks, pea shoots, julienned carrots, and piles of fresh herbs—and a stack of flexible rice paper wrappers, and the two of you can stuff the rolls for each other. Just don't skimp on the sweet, salty, and spicy peanut-tamarind dipping sauce.

Choux Pastry

An example of baked choux pastry: a fluffy puff right out of the oven on a parchment-lined tray
Vicky Wasik

Making choux pastry at home may seem like an impossible art, but it's easy so long as you pay attention to a few things, like ingredient ratios, temperatures, and when to add your eggs. Though choux doesn't seem like a two-person job at first, it's helpful to have another person around to make sure everything runs smoothly. Once you and your partner master this French pastry together, a world of baking possibilities awaits. Think classic éclairs infused with a rich vanilla bean pastry cream; cream puffs stuffed with chocolate or lemon pastry cream; cheesy gougères that bake up golden and crisp; and sugar-topped chouquettes, to name a few. You can take turns filling the pastries, then stuff yourselves silly.

Sandwich Cookies

Vicky Wasik

Any homemade cookie from one of Stella's recipes should be enough to get you in the mood, but sandwich-style cookies will give you an extra chance to lightly touch elbows as you apply dollops of creme and carefully center those top wafers. Choose from BraveTart's incredible "fauxreos", bright and crunchy ginger-lemon cookies, E.L. Fudge–style chocolate-filled vanilla cookies, peanut butter and jelly cookies for the kid in you, or soft and tender alfajores con cajeta, to name a few. Springing for a heart-shaped cookie cutter will of course automatically increase your cuteness quotient by 10%.

Milk Duds

Vicky Wasik

There's something about a slightly messy DIY project—especially if the mess it produces is edible—that can't help but feel a little sensual. You've got to check your inhibitions at the door if you want to plunge your hands into a vat of melted chocolate, and that's exactly how you'll be coating these chewy DIY Milk Duds—which happily introduces the possibility of secretly touching fingers inside the pot and devising clever methods of getting all that chocolate off of each other. You don't need us for that, but you will want to closely follow Stella's instructions for making the caramel, and read up on Kenji's guide to tempering chocolate.

Cannoli

Overhead view of a sheet of cannoli
Vicky Wasik

When it comes to cannoli, it's almost impossible to find a well-prepared version that's worthy of your taste buds, unless of course you have an Italian bakery nearby. But making them at home with your significant other is easy, so long as you have the right ingredients and some special equipment on hand. One person can prepare the dough while the other prepares the filling, and while you form the shells, your partner can get to work frying them, or vice versa. Once your cannoli are filled, you can dip one or both ends of each into chopped chocolate or pistachio pieces for an even sweeter treat to share with your sweet someone.