Domini Kemp’s hearty sharing recipes for Valentine’s Day

Our resident chef offers an alternative take on a romantic menu

This easy tart recipe is a great way to use up any leftover cheese you might have in the fridge. Picture: Dean Carroll

I’m unsure whether it was the extra-long Christmas break this year, the freezing-cold weather, or if things are just feeling especially gloomy as Donald Trump’s tan deepens, but a typical Valentine’s column (with oysters and chocolate) just didn’t feel right.

Instead, I wanted to create meatless – but hearty – dishes that would provide warming comfort without breaking the bank. Dried mushrooms are a great way to provide some luxury and adding the port (which you may have been given years ago for Christmas) feels like a good way to use up a fortified wine you may not want to drink.

The patatas bravas just make me think of warmer climates, and the fig tart was a welcome airstrip for all sorts of leftover bits of posh cheeses that had been abandoned in the fridge, hoping a fondue would rescue them from the compost bin.

The recipes and portions might seem a bit random, but I loved the idea of cooking a bit of a spread, grazing and enjoying it as part of a relaxed dinner with friends. Happy cooking.

Blue cheese, fig and caramelised onion tart

Ingredients, serves 6-8

50g butter

50ml olive oil

2 red or white onions – or one of each – peeled and sliced

Salt and pepper

Few sprigs rosemary

50ml milk

Flour for dusting, if necessary

1 sheet ready puff pastry, rolled out if necessary

200g leftover cheese – blue, or creamy

4 fresh figs, sliced

2-3 tsp honey

2 eggs, beaten


1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Heat the butter and olive oil in a pan, then sweat the onions until very soft. Add the rosemary and season well, then remove from the heat and add the milk. Mix really well, and then drain off some of the liquid and keep to glaze the pastry.

2. Put the pastry onto a suitable baking tray. Add the onions and evenly spread out, then add the cheese, crumbled evenly, and the fig slices on top. Drizzle with honey and more rosemary.

3. Beat the eggs and add to the milk reserved from the onions. Brush the outside rim of the pastry with this mix, then place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until everything is golden brown and delicious looking. Check the pastry is fully cooked underneath by having a little peek while you lift a section off the baking tray. Allow to cool a little before slicing and serving with extra olive oil and honey if you fancy.

This mushrooms on toast recipe would make for a great breakfast too. Picture: Dean Carroll

Posh mushrooms on toast

Ingredients, serves 4 if you cut the toast in half, but it’s also perfect for breakfast for 2

40g dried mushrooms

50g butter

1 small white onion, peeled and sliced

Olive oil

50ml port

100ml cream

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp chopped tarragon, plus extra to serve

Couple sprigs thyme

Salt and pepper

2 slices toasted brioche or sourdough, slathered in butter


1. Cover the mushrooms with hot water and leave to rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Drain, but keep the mushroom liquid – you might need to strain it in case there’s some grit.

2. Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat, sweat the onion in the butter until really soft, then scrape it into a bowl and set aside.

3. Turn the heat up and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Fry the mushrooms until they start to go a nice caramelised colour, then add the onions back into the pan. Add the port to deglaze the pan, then add the cream, garlic, thyme and tarragon, and season well. Add some of the mushroom stock and cook out the mixture until delicious, thick and glossy. Spoon over the toasted bread, garnish with tarragon and serve.

Patatas bravas made this way is incredibly moreish. Picture: Dean Carroll

Patatas bravas, smoked tomato sauce, aioli

I doubled up on the roast tomatoes so that you could use one-half for the mushroom Parmigiana recipe. If you don’t make that, don’t worry, this tomato sauce is delicious and very handy to add to some pasta or even spooned over some grilled fish at another mealtime. This dish also reheats really well the next day, so it is worth making a big enough batch.

Ingredients, serves 4 generously

1kg cherry tomatoes

100ml olive oil

Salt and pepper

Few sprigs thyme

1-2 tsp honey or pinch caster sugar

1 onion, peeled and sliced

Few pinches of chilli powder

2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

200-300g jar roasted red peppers, drained and lightly rinsed

1kg baby potatoes

150g jar of ghee

150g butter

Few sprigs oregano

For the aioli

4 egg yolks

200ml olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed



1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Put the cherry tomatoes in a roasting tin and drizzle with half the olive oil, lots of salt, and pepper, and roast for about 45 minutes or so until starting to burst. At that point, you can drizzle with the honey and add the thyme. Cook out further for about 30 minutes or so – you may need to turn the oven down to 150C if the honey is starting to burn. You want them to shrivel up a bit and become unctuous and concentrated in flavour. Remove them from the oven when they’re cooked, then increase the oven temperature to 180C.

2. Meanwhile, add a little oil to a heavy-based saucepan and sweat the onion until soft, then turn up the heat and add the chilli powder and smoked paprika. Season well, then add the jar of red peppers. Mix around and then blitz with half the cherry tomatoes –keep the other half for the mushroom Parmigiana.

3. To cook the spuds, add the ghee and butter to a roasting tray and stick it in the bottom of a hot oven to melt and heat up. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and allow to continue “steaming” or drying over the saucepan off the heat in a colander, using the residual heat to keep encouraging the steam. After a few minutes, shake the potatoes around the colander to bash up a little and then carefully add to the hot fat in the roasting tin. Season really well and add some oregano. Roast, turning the spuds occasionally so they get basted in fat, until golden brown and crisp, about 30-40 minutes.

4. While the potatoes are roasting, make the aioli. It’s easiest to do this in a blender – simply blitz the egg yolks, add the crushed garlic, and then, in a slow stream, add the olive oil. Season well and serve. If it splits, start again with fresh egg yolk and add the split mixture back to it.

5. Serve the roasted potatoes with the warm tomato sauce and blobs of aioli.

Mushroom Parmigiana is a great veggie starter option. Picture: Dean Carroll.

Portobello mushroom Parmigiana

Ingredients, serves 4 as a starter

Use about 500g of the roasted tomatoes from the potatas bravas tomato sauce recipe

4 portobello mushrooms, peeled

2 tbsp tamari

Few sprigs thyme

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

50g butter

Few garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

50g panko breadcrumbs

1-2 balls of mozzarella, drained and torn

50g grated Parmesan

Basil, to serve


1. Preheat oven to 200C. Put the mushrooms on a roasting tray and season with tamari, some thyme, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes until juicy and tasty. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the garlic, then the panko, and cook for a few minutes until buttery and a little golden.

3. When ready to do the final cooking, spoon some crushed tomatoes onto the mushrooms, top with slices of mozzarella and some thyme, then sprinkle with the panko and a little grated Parmesan. Bake for about 20 minutes until the panko is golden brown. Serve with some torn basil – this dish or its chicken variant are often served with pasta, but I find that quite heavy, so I like to serve this with some courgette ribbons that have been lightly sautéed in olive oil.