Ina Garten recently released her latest book: Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust (see our review here). Today I want to revisit an interview I did with Garten a little while back. She gave me a few of her favorite tips for entertaining and making dinner, as well as some of the tools that really help out in her kitchen. For common mistakes cooks make, to why she loves roasting so much, to her unexpected favorite tools — plus her views on freezing meals and what she cooks when she's all by herself — read on!
What are your favorite recipes in the book that are good for scaling up (or down) when you have a party, or for when you're just cooking for two?
Some things, obviously, like a leg of lamb, are better for a lot of people. I don't mind making something big and then serving it in different ways for different dinners. Steakhouse steaks are great; for a crowd you can make them in two different pans. Also, the herb-roasted turkey breast is easy to make and to scale. You can make one or five.
Our readers often ask about good recipes to freeze. Do you have any recipes that you like to freeze in this book?
You know, I am actually not big on freezing. It really changes the texture and flavor of a dish. Try to make scalloped tomatoes and freeze it, for instance. And I find that I never pull it out again. Stuff goes in the freezer and never comes out. I suppose the Weeknight Bolognese can freeze, and soups freeze well, like beef barley soup. But I would much rather start with a very simple recipe and make it fresh than freeze something for later.
What's your go-to dish for entertaining that's not too expensive?
Weeknight Bolognese is great. It's just canned tomatoes, Parmesan, and pasta. You can use lean ground sirloin, and it can really serve a crowd.
I notice you use roasting as a method quite a lot in your recipes. Why is that?
Yes, when you are cooking on the stovetop you have to stir, have to watch — have to always watch it. Also, the heat of my stove might be different from yours. But roasting is an even temperature. I try to roast as much as possible; these recipes have more of a tendency to come out perfectly every time. It's not a matter of futzing all the time.
What do you cook when you're alone?
Oatmeal! I never cook for myself! I cook all day so last thing I want to do is cook.
When it comes to making dinner or throwing a party, what's one mistake home cooks make?
Doing too complicated a menu. You get yourself in trouble, but it could have been avoided from the start. I always say don't cook more than two or three things for a meal. After all, it's not about the food. It's about the friends.
Do you have any favorite kitchen tools that you think are unfamiliar or unusual to home cooks?
I have a stack of eight half sheet pans — I do everything in theses. Bake, make cookies, cakes, roast! I think these are something many cooks don't think to have.
Another thing I find a lot of people don't have that I use a lot is a juicer. There is really no substitute for fresh citrus juice. You get so much flavor from something that is so inexpensive.
But then, with a good sharp knife you can do an enormous number of things. And I use my KitchenAid mixer everything from cakes to mashed potatoes.
Thanks so much, Ina!
→ Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust by Ina Garten
(Images: Quentin Bacon; Faith Durand)