The host of "Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro" also reveals her four-dish entertaining strategy and favorite travel destination.
This Sunday, Ina Garten's show Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro returns to the Food Network. In honor of her much-anticipated return to our television screens, Garten talked with Food & Wine about her tips for spring entertaining, the one dish she couldn't live without, and the ingredients she's most looking forward to cooking with this spring.
What can viewers can expect from the upcoming season of Cook Like a Pro?
"Everybody wants to be able to cook with confidence. When I’m doing something, I find myself thinking, ‘Is this the best way to do it?’ It’s really about recipes and techniques from 40 years in the food business. So for example, what’s the best way to cut corn off a cob? If you put a kitchen towel up on the cutting board and cut it into the kitchen towel, it doesn’t bounce all over the kitchen. Or someone once asked me, ‘When I cut cauliflower it gets all over my kitchen. What can I do?’ I turn it over, cut out the core and pull the florets apart. All those techniques that make you go, ‘Oh that’s how I can do it!’ That’s what I want people to know."
What's your advice for home cooks who want to take their meals to the next level?
"Don’t make something you’ve never made before for company. Part of being a pro is making something over and over again until you feel confident that you can make it well. Inevitably, the ingredients are different, the oven temperature is off, the chicken you got isn’t the right size. Things happen. The more you make recipes over and over, the more confident you are.
The other is, you don’t need a lot of equipment, but you do need good equipment. I’d rather have three really sharp knives, than one hundred specialty knives that are dull."
What kitchen appliance do you always make sure to have on hand?
"I have a stack of sheet pans. A lot of people have one. I have eight. If I’m roasting potatoes, sometimes it’s better to roast them on two [pans], so they don’t steam. Have sheet pans, have a good set of knives. I love a Kitchenaid mixer, but a hand mixer does the same job, you just have to stand there. And a good set of pots. If you can’t afford a good set of pots, you can go to a restaurant supply store. Simple, really good equipment that you can have forever is really the best."
Are there are any dishes you still have trouble cooking?
"There are things that just take too much time, like Bouillabaisse. It takes a long time to make a classic Bouillabaisse or a duck confit. I love to order them in restaurants. If I spent two days making dinner for my guests, and they eat it in two hours, they can’t possibly appreciate it enough. I think those are great [at restaurants]. Anything that has to do with a demi-glace. I can make a demi-glace but who wants to? Whereas at a restaurant, they have people that do that. I like to make really simple, absolutely delicious food that takes a couple hours to make, and I’m not crying and exhausted and sweating."
What are your go-to dishes to prepare for spring entertaining?
"There’s a butterfly lemon chicken, roasted in a skillet. It’s really easy, just roasted onion, sliced lemon, garlic—you put it in the oven and forget about it. It’s beyond delicious. I love to make a slow-roasted filet beef. You basically put it in the oven, time it and it comes out perfectly every time. And then there are things people just love, like a salted caramel pannacotta, which you can make the night before and it’s ready for whenever you’re serving.
Whenever I’m planning a dinner menu, I always pick something I can make in advance, something you can put in the oven and forget about it, something that goes on top of the stove, and something that’s served at the room temperature, so four things don’t have to be hot at the same time."
What really impresses you when you go to a friend’s dinner party?
"I think anyone who cooks for a living loves having other people cook for them. I don’t care if it's hot dogs and baked beans out of a can. But I think the most important thing at a dinner party is that the host is having fun. If they are wise enough to make a meal that can do without having a meltdown, I think that’s really impressive."
What's one dish you couldn't live without?
"I think it's roast chicken. To me, it's a classic, comforting home meal and it's amazingly simple to make. I love to make a roast chicken and fill the cavity with lemon and thyme, and then roast it in a pan of carrots and potatoes and onions, and it's a meal in one dish."
What are you excited to cook with this spring?
"When you buy ingredients in season, they're cheaper and they’re better. In the spring, when asparagus is coming in, all you have to do is roast it on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, put it in the oven, and maybe in the last 60 seconds add some parmesan, and you’ve got a fabulous side dish. For breakfast with scrambled eggs, that’s wonderful. I try to make what feels right in the season. Right now, I love to make rack of lamb with orzo and roasted vegetables. I also make roast chicken with radishes in the pan that is so delicious. It sounds like an unlikely thing but someone made it for me in Paris and I went crazy."
What are some essentials that you always keep stocked in your fridge?
"I always have good butter and eggs. Urbani makes a wonderful white truffle butter, so if you need to make a fabulous meal, you can add some pasta and have white truffle pasta. I always have soups in the freezer and chicken stock. And vodka, and good French Champagne."
What’s your favorite travel destination?
"It might be Paris. To me, it’s the ideal vacation because they have a way of life that’s just appreciating things. I often quote my friend Adam Gopnik, who said that ‘everyday things in Paris are wonderful.’ Buying a baguette and walking home with it, or sitting in a cafe and watching the fashion go by. It’s such a great counterpoint to the craziness and intensity of our lives here."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.