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Chef Ina Garten Serves Up Simple Dishes

Barefoot Contessa’s latest cookbook, 'Go-To Dinners,' features easy-to-assemble recipes

spinner image ina garten wearing blue button down shirt in kitchen surrounded by stove, sink, pans and dishes
Jesse Dittmar/Redux


Who says that dinner has to be an elaborate affair? Not Ina Garten. The home cook, entertaining expert and TV host known as the Barefoot Contessa understands how daunting it can be to prepare dinner after a long workday. “I think at one point I was cooking all day and doing Instagram and working on a book, and then it came time for dinner,” she tells AARP. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to make dinner too.’”

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So Garten turned to her and husband Jeffrey’s favorite simple standbys, such as omelets and veggie bowls. “It wasn’t a big dinner, and it was so much easier to do. I actually haven’t gone back,” she says. “I mean, for me, a bowl of soup with some chicken in it is a great dinner.” In her latest cookbook, Go-To Dinners, Garten shares favorite, simple recipes that can be dressed up or down.

Garten says her inspiration for this cookbook began in the early days of the pandemic. “We didn’t know whether we could go shopping again. We all had stuff in our pantry we didn't know what to do with.” She asked her millions of Instagram followers what questions they had regarding how to use their pantry staples, and “that became information I used in the book.”

The cookbook’s chapters are broken into types of dinners, and plenty of that famous Garten warmth and approachability is woven throughout. There’s even a chapter dedicated to breakfast for dinner. “You don't want to do it all the time, but once in a while it’s really fun to have breakfast for dinner,” says Garten. “I actually served waffles and bacon to some friends once just to see what they would do, and they went crazy. I mean, they went back for seconds and thirds.” In this chapter, readers will find savory items like roasted vegetables with jammy eggs, and sweeter dishes such as blueberry ricotta breakfast cake. There’s even Garten’s version of avocado toast, which requires minimal effort — simply toast the bread, mash the avocado, roast some prosciutto and fry an egg. “Put them all together and I’m a happy camper,” she writes.

spinner image ina garten on book cover of go-to dinners, holding glass of white wine; table has flowers, bottle of wine, turkey, paper plates, and glasses
Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House


Cook With Ina

Garten shared three recipes from Go-To Dinners for AARP members to try:

Orange Marmalade-Glazed Ham

Pineapple juice, brown sugar, orange marmalade and mustard make the most delicious glaze.

One-Pot Oven Risotto

Asparagus, saffron, wine and Parmesan make this risotto particularly satisfying.

Cinnamon-Spiced Shortbread

Not only are these cookies delicious, but the house smells wonderful when you make them!

While this cookbook is for home chefs of all skill levels, it includes a few recipes that Garten encourages readers not to shy away from — even though they might seem intimidating. “I always think everybody should have a roast chicken, so I think the roast chicken with vegetables is a particularly good one,” she says. “I think people are afraid of roast chicken because they tend to overcook it. But what happens is, it has to come out when it’s a little undercooked, and then you cover it with foil and allow it to rest for 15 minutes, and it continues to cook without overcooking. You end up with a really succulent, delicious roast chicken,” says Garten. The salmon teriyaki and broccolini is another surprisingly easy recipe that only looks complicated, but it has only three components (salmon, broccolini and sauce) and the preparation time is less than 30 minutes.

At age 74, Go-To Dinners is her 13th cookbook, so it may come as a surprise that Garten was reluctant to write her first, The Barefoot Contessa, published in 1999. “I thought it was going to be a very solitary experience. After running a specialty food store, I always wanted it to feel like you were coming to a party. There were fun people and the music was great and there were things to taste, and it was just fun. I was afraid … I’d be working by myself in a kitchen,” she says.

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Now that she’s experienced just how collaborative the process is, she embraces every step, especially the photo shoots. “I love the photo shoots, which I produce. Everybody works together in the barn: the photographer, food stylist, prop stylist and me. I think it’s hard. It’s really challenging, and I love that challenge. But it’s all very visual and I love that.”

That feeling of collaboration and connection was something Garten sorely missed during the pandemic, and she hopes this book will help others find it again too. While her recipes in Go-To Dinners could be used for a dinner party, many of them are ideal for a casual evening at home. Many nights, Garten and Jeffrey will augment a takeout meal with a custom touch (think a restaurant steak paired with a homemade tomato salad). The most important thing, though, is that they’re having dinner together. “That’s a great time to catch up and really talk,” she says. “I mean, dinnertime is important to me.”

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