For Thanksgiving, Ina Garten wants you to focus on simplicity
Updated November 13, 2022 at 9:53 AM ET
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. So are other end-of-year celebrations. And if you're hosting a get-together, you're probably feeling nervous about how to pull it off successfully.
Best-selling cookbook author Ina Garten knows that anxiety too well — and she says planning is crucial to pulling off a successful dinner party.
"Have a game plan. Sometimes we feel like we should make four side dishes or four desserts," she tells NPR. "Make a simple meal and make it absolutely delicious. Your friends won't have any fun if you've spent the entire day baking. In fact, they'll have more fun if you're relaxed and happy."
Nicknamed the Barefoot Contessa, Garten has built a fan base for her elevated and accessible style. The former White House budget analyst now sits atop a cooking empire that includes TV shows, numerous Emmy and James Beard awards, and more than a dozen cookbooks.
In her latest book — Go-To Dinners — Garten is building on that legacy by helping people learn how to be more confident cooks.
"I think that I'm a very nervous cook. And so if a recipe isn't simple enough for me to do and do well and repeat and do it again the same way, it doesn't make it into a book."
Garten says her aim is to be your best friend and guide in the kitchen — on everything from putting together a quick meal to pulling off a successful gathering for friends and loved ones.
That's because she knows it isn't easy.
"You know, cooking is like driving a car. You know the road is straight, but you kind of have to adjust the wheel every once in a while to make sure you're staying on the road."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On how the pandemic inspired Go-To Dinners:
I was helping people on Instagram figure out what to do with those white beans that they put in the pantry. A lot of people didn't know [how to cook]. And so every day I would make something from what I actually had in my pantry. So I was just flat out cooking all day, every day. And the pandemic started in March. By the end of May, I was done and it was like, I have to rethink this because I just couldn't cook all the time.
I thought, "[Does] dinner really have to be a meat, a vegetable, and a starch?" So I started [to] do one thing [a night], like chicken in a pot with orzo, where everything is in one pot. And those are the recipes that I put in the book.
On making peace with store-bought items for a gathering:
[My husband and I] were on vacation at a restaurant in Cannes. And there was one big, long table that was obviously friends having a party. There must have been 20 people.
And out of the kitchen came this enormous long wood board that they put down right in the middle of the table. And it had pieces of tart and long stemmed strawberries and shards of chocolate and little tarts and cookies.
[The dish had] all kinds of things that you could actually buy in a bakery. And I thought, "Well, that's a great idea. Here's an entire dessert for a huge party. And I wouldn't even have to bake anything."
On one of her favorite go-to recipes from Go-To Dinners:
One thing I've made a lot is the teriyaki salmon with broccolini. What you do is make a teriyaki sauce with ginger and garlic and sesame oil. Marinate the salmon with [it], and put it in the oven.
As it cooks, it makes a sauce for the salmon, and then the broccolini goes in at the same temperature on a different shelf, and you end up with a full dinner that you've cooked in 12 minutes. Then serve it with some basmati rice, and you've got a whole meal.
The following recipes are from GO-TO DINNERS. Copyright © 2022 by Ina Garten. Photographs copyright @2022 by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Salmon Teriyaki & Broccolini
Good olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
1½ tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 skinless salmon fillets (2 to 2½ pounds total)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds broccolini, lower thirds of the stems discarded
Steamed basmati rice
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange two racks evenly spaced in the oven. In a small saucepan, combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the soy sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat, and simmer for just 2 minutes. Set aside.
Arrange the salmon, rounded sides up, in a baking dish just large enough to hold them with a little space between the fillets. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper and spoon the soy sauce mixture evenly over the fillets. Roast on the upper rack for 12 to 13 minutes for rare or 13 to 14 minutes for medium, depending on the thickness of the fillets.
At the same time, place the broccolini on a sheet pan, drizzle it with 4 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons salt and ¾ teaspoon black pepper. Toss with your hands and spread out in one layer. Roast the broccolini on the lower oven rack for 10 to 12 minutes, tossing once, until crisp-tender.
Place the salmon, broccolini, and basmati rice on four plates and spoon the pan juices over the salmon. Serve hot.
Eggs in Purgatory
Good olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onions
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (24-ounce) jar Rao's Arrabbiata Sauce
¹⁄8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (6-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
4 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly grated Italian Pecorino cheese
1½ teaspoons minced fresh parsley
Flaked sea salt, such as Maldon, and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 slices toasted country bread, for serving
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium (10-inch) sauté pan. Add the onions and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the arrabbiata sauce, red pepper flakes, and rosemary, bring to a simmer, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the sprig of rosemary.
Carefully crack one of the eggs into a small (4-inch) bowl and gently slide it into one corner of the pan (don't break the yolk), using the edge of the bowl to make a slight indentation in the sauce as you pour the egg in. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs, placing them on opposite sides of the pan. Cover the pan tightly and cook over medium-low heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Sprinkle with the Pecorino, parsley, sea salt, and black pepper, cover the pan again, and cook for one more minute.
To serve, use a large spoon to scoop up two eggs per person along with some of the sauce and carefully transfer to shallow bowls. Spoon the remaining sauce around the eggs and serve hot with the toasted bread.
One-Pot Oven Risotto
Good olive oil
1¼ cups thinly sliced shallots (2 large)
1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends removed, cut diagonally in 1-inch lengths
1½ cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
5 to 6 cups simmering chicken stock, preferably homemade
½ teaspoon saffron threads
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium (11-inch) Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In the same Dutch oven, heat one additional tablespoon olive oil. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice with oil. Add 4 cups of the chicken stock and the saffron, bring to a simmer, and cover. Transfer to the oven and bake for 35 minutes, until the rice is tender, and the liquid is absorbed.
Remove from the oven and add the white wine, stirring well until incorporated, then add one more cup of chicken stock, the Parmesan, butter, 2½ teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes, until the risotto is thick and creamy, adding more chicken stock, if necessary, to keep the risotto very creamy. Stir in the asparagus-and-shallot mixture and serve hot sprinkled with extra grated Parmesan.
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