Ina Garten has a knack for making cooking and entertaining look oh so easy. In her latest book, Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and tips for home cooks, the Emmy award-winning food network star of barefoot contessa shares her well-tested tricks and wisdom.
What are your top three pieces of advice with which every home cook should be armed? First, one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that the dial on their oven is accurate; it’s probably not. Start by putting an oven thermometer from the hardware store in [your] oven to make sure the temperature is correct. Second, instead of having a million different knives, invest in three good knives: a chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife and a paring knife. Third, taste everything before you serve it. Very often, it could use a splash of vinegar or lemon juice, or a sprinkle of salt and pepper to brighten the flavors.
Your 1999 Barefoot Contessa cookbook is still in heavy rotation in my kitchen. It never feels out of date or out of step. What makes a recipe timeless? When I think about a recipe I want to make, the first thing I think about is a remembered flavor, and those never go out of date. The recipe for chicken Marbella in Cook Like a Pro is a good example. It was delicious in the ’80s, but it needed a few tweaks to give it a little more flavor, and now it’s just as satisfying as it used to be. Good food never goes out of style.
Your recipes manage to be at once global and homey, transcending regionality. How have the Hamptons and eastern Long Island influenced your cooking? I’ve spent my entire food career on Long Island. When I talk about using local ingredients in my books and on my show, I’m probably using chicken from Iacono Farm, bay scallops from the Peconic Bay and tomatoes from Jim Pike’s farm stand.
I am always amazed and inspired by the incredible farmers, fishermen and food purveyors in the Hamptons. Whatever is in season is what I want to cook, and it’s probably a good guideline for people cooking at home.
Where is your favorite place in the Hamptons to eat that’s not your own kitchen? The 1770 House is right around the corner, so we tend to walk over there a lot. Right now, we’re loving their brown rice and duck stir fry. I get lunch all the time from Mary’s Marvelous and also love the soups at John Papas.
What’s the key to being a great cook and a great host? I always say if you cook, everyone shows up— and that’s when you really connect with people. It’s actually not about making something that impresses your guests, but making something that makes them feel comfortable and relaxed. And that’s when you really connect.