For Bre Graham, food and love have always been intertwined. After moving to London from Singapore at 18, she used cooking as a way to connect—as well as cope—with life in a new city: birthday cakes for new friends, lamb stew for when her father visited her flat, sandwiches for a new boyfriend. A decade later, she compiled those formative recipes in a Table for Two, a work that doubles as a cookbook as well as a personal account of failing and finding love (of all kinds) in your twenties.
As the title suggests, Table for Two focuses on recipes meant to foster intimacy between a pair of loved ones. Although Graham is quick to clarify that it’s not just romantic type: “I don’t believe romance should be just reserved for romantic love. In my eyes, it is something we can imbue every occasion with, not only for a girlfriend/husband/partner; our lives are full of so many other people worthy of a little romance.”
Rather than being divided by culinary category, Graham instead sorts her recipes via wide-ranging occasions: “Easy to Impress” are simple yet comforting dishes “for those days when you and your love get home from work weighed down by the world and want to disappear from it all with a bowl of steaming spaghetti and a bottle of your favorite wine,” she explains. The second, titled “Just to Delight,” features meals for special occasions.
Along the way, Graham shares her own personal love stories. Take a recipe for oysters, which she perfected one lonely Christmas spent with her best friend. “A few years ago, I spent my first Christmas away from my parents,” she writes. “I was 24, my grandfather had passed away a few weeks before, leaving my family heartbroken, and I was dating a string of some of London’s most terrible men.” Meanwhile, an entry on Florentine buns describes their role in her early romance: “On our first holiday away together in Florence, with an early morning hangover after too many Negronis the night before, Joe and I practically crawled to the closest coffee shop,” she writes. “We took our bounty of snacks down the edge of the Arno River and made a little picnic on the riverbank walls.”
Below, Graham shares her recipe for smoked chili and vodka rigatoni. The pasta, which she describes as “pure bliss”, is the perfect romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day. “This is the sort of meal you want to eat after one too many glasses of wine,” says Graham. “It’s carby, creamy, and super spicy.”
Smoked chili and vodka rigatoni
Ingredients9 oz dried rigatoni1 tbsp unsalted butter1⁄2 white onion, finely grateda pinch of sea salt, plus extra to cook the pasta4 garlic cloves, finely grated3 tbsp tomato purée (tomato paste)1 tsp smoked dried chili (chile) flakes5 tbsp vodka61⁄2 tbsp heavy cream1 handful of basil leaves, finely sliced, plus extra leaves to serve1 handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serveInstructionsCook the rigatoni in a big pot of boiling salted water following the packet instructions.While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a deep sauté pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and sauté with a pinch of salt for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, then add the tomato purée and smoked chili flakes. Turn the heat down a little, stir, and cook gently for 2 minutes.As the tomato paste caramelizes and starts to darken in color and stick to the bottom, pour in the vodka and stir to deglaze the pan. Let the vodka cook off and reduce before stirring in the cream. The sauce should be smooth, creamy, and deep orange in color. Stir in the basil and Parmesan.Drain the rigatoni, reserving 4 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta and cooking water to the sauce and toss to combine.Serve the pasta topped with extra basil leaves and grated Parmesan or, for a total delight, a ball of burrata. Eat immediately and enjoy.