EDITOR’S NOTE: Yesterday, Ina Garten announced that her new show, ‘Cook Like a Pro’, will be premiering on Food Network in May of this year. No word on the specifics just yet. This post originally ran in December of 2016, but we’re republishing it in order to remind you of some of her greatest tips and tools for home cooks; consider this a glimpse of what her new show might look like.
All of Ina Garten's books are the same.
The ten books are not technically the same, of course (though wouldn't that be the biggest racket in cookbook publishing history?!)—but they are consistent and reliable to the point of being indistinguishable to the glancing eye. Who's to say whether "Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes" is in Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof or Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?* (Not me. After reading all ten books, I feel as blurry—and indoctrinated—as ever.)
Ina has her mantras—that a bit of planning ahead makes for less stressful parties; that simpler is often more enjoyable; that not everything has to be homemade; that quality of ingredients is of utmost importance—and she applies her philosophy of "learn what you like and stick with it" not only to her recipes and to her table settings, but to her cookbooks as well.
So when you pick up an Ina Garten book, you know what you're going to get—and that's a wonderful, comforting thing. A new Ina Garten book is like a new pair of Birkenstocks in the same size: You don't question whether they'll fit. (Or whether they're "in style": Ina works her magic to bring dishes and ingredients we've dismissed as "of a time"—tiramisu, pesto pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, wild rice salad—back en vogue.) There'll be no funky surprises or crash-and-burn disappointments here.
Maybe that means she's not innovating at the same level of other cookbook authors and chefs, always hunting for the Next Big Thing, the Last Uncharted Topic, or maybe it means that she's created such a name for herself that people are yearning for more of the same. Give me another roasted vegetable or roasted chicken. Give me another weeknight pasta. Give me, give me more!
Ina herself draws from the same books and fellow cooks as inspiration, book after book. She opens Cucina Simpatica by Johanne Killeen and George Germon, who own Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island; The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook by the late Anna Pump; Nantucket Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase. She turns to David Tanis, Judy Rodgers, and David Lebovitz.
Instead of looking for new ideas, I'm just looking for old ideas and finding the best ways to make delicious food.Ina Garten, Back to Basics
Look closely enough, of course, and you will notice evolution: She introduces ingredients that are growing in popularity and availability in the U.S., some to the point of ubiquity (Sriracha! salted caramel! panko breadcrumbs! farro! burrata!). She brings particular techniques and tips into light, even as her cooking cornerstones remain the same. And Ina gives us updates of her own classic recipes—because she'd never withhold an easier, more flavorful version—and uses some fun new language, too: "OMG is this delicious," she says of the Tagliarelle with Truffle Butter in Back to Basics.)
Instead of breaking down Ina Garten's oeuvre book-by-book depending on what you're looking for as a cook (because, if you're Ina's target audience, any of these books will do and the more recent will, of course, be most up-to-date—I recommend you start with Jeffrey and work your way back in time), we're going through her works and picking out our favorite words of wisdom and tips for cooking and entertaining:
1. "Food is not about impressing people. In fact, it's just the opposite: it's about making them feel comfortable." (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
2. "Hands are a cook's best utensils." (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
3. "The most useful thing I learned by cooking professionally is that there are a million things you can do in advance to make cooking less stressful." (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
More: How Ina makes-ahead stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie, and other holiday staples.
4. “I can’t say enough about assembling food rather than cooking. I keep telling myself that my friends won’t have more fun if I spend two days making a daquoise for dessert than if I find a delicious pound cake at a bakery and serve it with store-bought lemon curd and fresh raspberries.” (Parties!)
5. "At the end of the day, foolproof is really about cooking with confidence. [...] As I said, it's a little like driving a car. Everyone can do it, and as with driving, the more experience you have, the more easily you'll make the small adjustments along the way that ensure success." (Foolproof)
6. Cooking will "never truly be easy if you don't have a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer." And it's not about having a million types of olive oil, or salt, or canned tomatoes—it's about having one type that is versatile and that you love. (How Easy is That?)
7. If "you ever have the urge to make Turducken (a boned chicken rolled inside a boned duck, inside a boned turkey), lie down until the urge passes!" (Foolproof)
8. "The simpler the dinner is, the more fun everyone has, including the host!" (Cooking for Jeffrey)
9. "For everyone who thinks I'm a relaxed cook, I don't want to disappoint you, but I'm totally not! I've learned to organize really well, to rely on recipes that are easy to prepare, and to serve lots of things that are assembled rather than cooked." (Cooking for Jeffrey)
10. Design a dessert platter by thinking about how your various elements interact: "I follow good Japanese principles. 'Earth' is a solid element, which grounds the design; 'sky' is something taller, which curves upward; and 'water' is something spilling forward. In all good design, the eye wants to be drawn to one focal point." (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
11. Six to eight is the maximum for a round table; for larger parties, use narrow, rectangular tables. Ina recommends putting “the most talkative people in the center facing each other. This way the energy of the group is pulled to the middle and the party doesn’t break into two groups (one group always has more fun).” (Parties!)
12. Do a pre-party "rehearsal": “A week before the party, I try out the table settings to be sure I have enough plates for everyone and the silver is polished, the napkins are pressed, and the glasses are sparkling clean.” (Parties!)
13. For dishes that are reliable to serve at dinner parties but that won't bore any repeat guests, the solution is "a core group of good basic recipes that provides a framework for lots of variations.” Ina advises you “figure out ten recipes that you love and feel comfortable making. Then write three variations of each one that works for you. Now you’ve got thirty recipes that are really easy for you to make for a dinner party, and I’d say you’re set for a very long time.” (Parties!)
14. The same guidelines for your recipe repertoire can be applied to table settings: Stick with what works, then vary slightly: "I don't think any of my friends realize that for most of my dinner parties, I do the same table setting over and over again, because the settings look totally different each time. [...] I dress the table the way French women dress themselves: one silhouette, different materials, beautifully accessorized." (in Paris)
15. “When I’m having a dinner party, I try not to cook more than two things; I’ll assemble the rest.” (Family Style) (see Words of Wisdom #3)
16. “For every party I give, I make a timetable.” It's a real schedule of what has to happen and when, working backwards so that she knows exactly when the food will reach the table. (Family Style)
17. Think about the tasks you'll feel comfortable assign to friends before they arrive: “Wouldn’t you be flattered if a friend said, ‘I’d love it!’ when you offered to help? I’d feel valued and part of the A team.” (Family Style)
18. If you're overwhelmed selecting flower arrangements, "choose one kind of flower and use lots and lots of them." (in Paris)
19. And you'll want to set them up a couple of days in advance, so that the flowers have time to fully open. (Make it Ahead)
20. Instead of fancy table pads, use non-skid rug mats under your tablecloths for protection. (Foolproof)
21. "Not every dish has to be a star; I choose one special dish and design the rest of the menu around it." (Back to Basics)
22. Avoid serving nuts unless you know your guests well: "Many people hate nuts or are allergic to them." (Back to Basics)
23. And the same goes for offal: "Don't spring it on unsuspecting dinner guests without checking first." (Back to Basics)
24. Leave red wine and beets off the menu, too, or "you're just inviting disaster." (Back to Basics)
25. For as much as Ina encourages store-bought conveniences, she doesn't compromise quality—and she doesn't budge on pre-squeezed lemon juice: "There is no substitute for freshly squeezed lemon juice. Any other product tastes artificial and ruins the flavor of hummus." (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
26. "Thick asparagus have more flavor than thin ones. They just need to be peeled." (in Paris)
27. If you need a large quantity of a particular ingredient, be sure to specify that on the ingredient list. Write "12 ounces olive oil," for example, so that you don't buy an 8-ounce bottle and hit yourself later. (at Home)
28. It's easier to chop leeks first and clean them second: Chop well, then soak in a bowl of water for a few minutes. (at Home)
29. An extra bowl for the food processor and stand mixer are relatively inexpensive and mean you only have to wash it half as many times as you cook and bake. (How Easy is That?)
30. Citrus will yield more juice at room temperature than straight from the fridge. (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
31. If you need to peel a large number of shallots (for the Caramelized Shallots on page 165 of The Barefoot Contessa in Paris) or Cippolini onions (for Merrill's Tuscan Onion Confit), blanch them for less than 1 minute first: The skins will slip off easily.
32. Ina's more likely to use frozen components—like artichokes, peas, puff pastry—than she is to defrost fully-prepared frozen dishes: "Long ago, I realized that prepared food tends to go into my freezer and it almost never comes out because I'd rather eat something fresh than frozen, but I often use frozen ingredients." (Foolproof)
33. And if you're buying those temperature-sensitive ingredients on a warm day, "place a picnic cooler with freezer bags in the trunk of your car and keep perishables such as meat cool while making all your stops." (at Home)
34. But if you do want to freeze fully-cooked dishes, the best candidates are those with sauces, like stews and baked pastas. (Foolproof)
35. To grate large quantities of Parmesan cheese (for folding into sable dough, for example), use the blade of a food processor rather than a Microplane. (Foolproof)
36. You can make Hollandaise sauce up to an hour in advance and let it sit at room temp. Before serving, add 1 tablespoon of very hot tap water and blend again. (Foolproof)
37. "Many dishes I make rely on one or two ingredients to really amp up the flavor at the end, and it's almost always an ingredient that's already in the dish. [...] What I always use to garnish a dish—and only if it needs a garnish—is an ingredient that's actually in the dish." (Back to Basics)
38. To get the number of shrimp you need for a recipe, order it by the count per pound rather than relying on often-arbitrary names "large," "extra-large," or "jumbo." (Back to Basics)
39. For best flavor, "salt meats when they come home from the store and then rewrap and refrigerate them until you're ready to cook." (Back to Basics)
40. No one likes a limp, watery vegetable amidst their lasagna noodles. To solve that problem, Ina roasts the vegetables first, then layers them in. (Make It Ahead)
41. Store meat and fish on the bottom shelves of the fridge so that if they drip, it's not onto fruits or vegetables you might be eating raw. (Make It Ahead)
42. Ina prefers to buy carrots with their tops: "they're fresher and sweeter." (Make It Ahead)
43. If you want big, ripe figs, look for those sold individually in trays rather than in pint containers. (How Easy is That?)
44. To reheat polenta, place the mixture in a pot with extra stock or water and reheat slowly over low heat, stirring till smooth.
45. If you're shaving a block of chocolate to use as garnish, heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds—you'll get larger shavings. (How Easy is That?)
46. Add a turnip to your pot of cooking lentils: "I worked on lentil salad for years and couldn't get the flavor right. One day, I was having lunch with a friend in Paris and I asked her what the secret was and she said that they put a turnip in the cooking liquid, then throw away the turnip!" (Cooking for Jeffrey)
47. Ina cuts corn on a paper towel so she can pick up the towel and transfer the corn (wax or parchment paper would also work). (Cooking for Jeffrey)
48. "To clean mussels, put them in a large bowl of cold water with a handful of flour for 30 minutes. They will drink the water and disgorge any sand." (How Easy is That?)
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).Order now