Barefoot Contessa likes to keep things simple

Garten champions easy dishes without long ingredients lists

February 28, 2007|By Bill Ward | Bill Ward,McClatchy-Tribune

Ina Garten is a "home girl," through and through.

All of her professional tasks - shooting 20 episodes of Barefoot Contessa every year, testing recipes for her cookbooks, even "road-testing" meals for some (very lucky) friends - unfold at her Long Island, N.Y., home.

And with her trademark hearty chortle, ready smile, a vocal delivery with equal doses of natural warmth and "come hither-ness" and frequent recipe recitations that begin with "get out two sticks of butter," Garten makes Food Network viewers feel, well, right at home. If she doesn't like people as much as she likes food, she's one heck of an actress. Hers is the rare Hamptons abode where the hoi polloi might consider themselves welcome.

So the title of Garten's fifth book, Barefoot Contessa at Home, might seem a tad redundant. More telling is the subtitle, Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again.

"Over and over again," by the way, is how Garten tests each recipe for her books. "It's all a process of trying different things and seeing what sort of hits that ping in my head that says, `This is it,' " she said in a recent phone interview.

More from Garten: Is there still learning or discovery for you in cooking?

Absolutely. Actually, I find that every time I test a recipe, it's like a science project, except at the end of it, you have brownies instead of, like, hydrochloric acid. Every single time I work on a recipe, there are surprises that happen.

Your first career involved writing nuclear-policy papers at the White House. Was there anything in that job that helped you in your food career?

Yeah, I decided that I don't want to do anything like that (laughs heartily). I learned that I don't want to work for somebody. I didn't want to write issue papers. I mean, I was always interested in science and interested in business. So I've taken the interest in science and business and turned it into something more real.

Most of the recipes in the new book have only six or seven ingredients. Is that by design?

I just had it in my mind that I wanted to do things as simple as possible and still be as delicious as possible. I just think that you ought to be able to go to the grocery store, buy perfectly good ingredients, come home and make something easy and have something that will knock your family out, that's just delicious and good for them.

And I do something I call "road testing." It's one thing to make a dish all by itself in sort of a testing environment, but it's another thing to make it with two or three other things for dinner. The road testing is to see how two or three things go together, what people prefer, do they go back for seconds or thirds. I just get a much better sense of how things work, actually serving it at a party.

How do you come up with new recipes?

I get in my head something that is a traditional flavor, like a pan-fried onion dip, with the Lipton's old onion-soup mix. And I go, well, I think I can make it better by making it real. So I'll saute the onions so they're really sweet and firm. I'll get a flavor in my head and a texture in my head and then I'll just keep going until I get there. If I don't have something in my head that I'm shooting for, it never happens.

The test I used to have when I had a specialty-food store was, "Is it good enough that somebody will get out of their bed, into their clothes, into their car, drive into town, find a parking space, come into the store and buy it?" That's a pretty tough test. I want [a recipe] to be not just good, but so delicious that their family is thrilled with it.

Broccolini and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Serves 6

Ina Garten says this dish can be served hot as a side dish or cold as a summer salad. Broccolini was not available when we tested the recipe, but broccoli florets worked just fine.

2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (divided use), plus more to taste

1 1/2 pounds broccolini (or broccoli florets)

1/4 cup good olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon

In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 tablespoons kosher salt to a boil. Remove and discard the bottom third of the broccolini stems. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and pepper.

When the water comes to a boil, add the broccolini, return to a boil and cook over high heat for 2 minutes, until the stalks are just tender. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Pour enough dressing over the broccolini to moisten and toss well.

Splash with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and serve warm or cold.

From "Barefoot Contessa at Home"

Per serving: 121 calories, 9 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 49 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams fiber

Recipe analysis provided by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

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