Fresh, shmesh. Food Network superstar Ina Garten — aka The Barefoot Contessa — is out with her ninth cookbook, Make It Ahead (Clarkson Potter). Don't feel guilty. Do what she says! It just might change your life.
TV Guide Magazine: Don't most professional cooks think that just-prepared food — going straight from the stove or oven to the table — is best? What's with this make-ahead stuff?
Garten: I've always been interested in dishes that taste better a day or two after they're made, or even weeks later if you've popped them in the freezer. Not only do the recipes in this book taste just as good as the freshly prepared versions, they're actually better. And they're so suited to everyone's insane schedules these days. The No. 1 question I get asked is, "Can I make it ahead?"
TV Guide Magazine: You also have no problem buying a bakery pie or serving your guests takeout — kind of like us mere mortals.
Garten: As long as the food is good, people don't much care if you made it yourself. Is that shocking? I'm much more interested in my guests having a good time. Nora Ephron said, "If the hostess comes to the door bright red in the face and crying, it's probably not going to be a very good party."
TV Guide Magazine: Part of your great appeal is that you're so damn easygoing. You're like the anti-Martha Stewart. Where's your drive? Your ruthless sense of competition?
Garten: I live in my own little world where I am only competitive with myself. Never with other people. And I am all about keeping it simple. Simple and interesting. I love the basics, which is why I'm always trying to make a chicken taste more like a chicken, not like something else.
TV Guide Magazine: And improv in the kitchen is definitely not your thing. Why's that?
Garten: [Laughs] Oh, no! Once I perfect a recipe — sometimes after 20 tries — I follow it religiously. Once I figure out the exact balance of flavors, even down to the amount of salt and pepper, I want it to taste exactly like that. Always. No, no, no. I do not improvise.
TV Guide Magazine: You spent years as a nuclear-energy policy wonk in Washington, D.C., during the Carter and Ford administrations. Does your mind still go to politics when you're, say, chopping tomatoes?
Garten: Never! I feel like I got out of that world with my life. For a while it was interesting and kind of sexy that I was writing policies for $20 billion projects that were going directly to the president, but nothing ever happened with them. Nothing! So there's not anything I miss about those days, including having bosses.
TV Guide Magazine: You fled D.C. after buying — out of the blue — a Westhampton, New York, food store called The Barefoot Contessa. And the rest is culinary history. Was that destiny or luck?
Garten: All I did was answer a newspaper ad. One time I was sitting next to Oprah on a stage for some event and told her how lucky I've been in my life and she smacked me. She said, 'You are not lucky! You make your own luck!" You don't want to disagree with Oprah, but I just had to. [Laughs] I'm the luckiest person in the world!
In the Chips
"Kale got a PR agent — it's everywhere now!" says Garten, who grows three different varieties in her garden. "Roast it and cheese it up and it's perfect as a light bite with drinks."
Parmesan Kale Chips
1 large bunch flat-leaf kale
Good olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, remove and discard the hard rib from center of each leaf, leaving the leaves as intact as possible. Place on the sheet pans, drizzle or brush them with oil and toss to coat lightly. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake 10 minutes, until crispy. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese and bake for another 5 minutes. Cool and serve. To make it ahead: Prepare and cool to room temperature. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 4 days.
Garten's series Barefoot Contessa airs Sundays at 10 a.m./9c on Food Network.