Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts. So now that I’ve got the essentials down it’s time to branch out. I’ll choose a recipe from an episode of the Barefoot Contessa to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Dinner with Friends”
The Menu: Tri-Berry Pancakes (Ina) for breakfast; Fried Artichokes with Yogurt Dip (David), Grilled Steaks and Eggplant (Eli), and Plum Tart (Ina) for dinner
0:15 – Ina has some pretty amazing foodie friends. David Ziff and Eli Zabar – wow.
1:30 – Pancake making time and Ina’s adding orange zest and vanilla to the batter. That sounds light and fresh.
2:30 – Ina’s blowing my mind. She’s baking the pancakes in mini gratin dishes like a popover. No standing over a griddle. Smart.
3:00 – David and Eli are having coffee on the terrace. “How fabulous!” indeed.
3:30 – Fresh blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries to top each pancake and “breakfast is served.” Now I’m hungry.
4:00 – Ina just invited the guys back for dinner. The theme is Mediterranean and naturally they said yes. Eli ‘s reputation as a grill master means he’s in charge of the steaks. David wants to make artichokes (which are in season) and Ina loves dessert, so that’s her assignment.
5:00 – The plan is to grocery shop and meet back at the proverbial ranch to cook. David’s partner, Alan Bell, will join.
8:00 – The plum tart is underway using Italian prune plums, which are apparently less juicy than a regular plum. I always have trouble getting the flour-to-fruit ratio right in fruit desserts and they end up bubbling over. I hope she has a trick…
9:00 – Tapioca! I knew Ina would have the answer. Also, secret ingredient alert: Cassis liqueur to bring out the flavor of the plums.
12:00 – Shopping with David. Artichokes, fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary), greek yogurt, garlic? Check.
13:00 – Cooking with Eli. Is it weird that I’m curious to see his kitchen? Slightly disappointed; we don’t get a great view.
13:30 – Eli is reducing sherry wine vinegar and sugar to make a sauce for the eggplant. Mmm sweet and sour.
18:00 – Artichoke prep with David. Pro tip: 18 is the magic number of leaves to remove from the artichoke before frying in olive oil and garlic.
19:00 – David’s a thrifty guy and has a good use for the leftover olive oil and garlic cloves: vinaigrette. Someone paid attention in Home Ec.
19:30 – As a Chobani-loyal household I’m a little sad to see David is using a competitor for the greek yogurt dip with herbs. I really wanted us to be friends…
20:00 – Ina and David are sharing catering war stories. Here’s an idea: Ina, David and Eli should write a memoir of their time in the party business. I would buy it.
26:00 – The trick to getting Eli Zabar to come to dinner: ask him to grill steaks. You heard it here first folks.
26:30 – The word “shmeer” was spoken.
27:00 – The artichoke oil and garlic cloves return! Eli’s using them to flavor the grilled eggplant and grilled bread. Mmm carbs.
29:00 – Time to eat! Alan’s the big winner though - no cooking, all eating. Nicely played, Alan.
I have to test the artichoke leaves theory when they’re in season this summer.
Repurposing the artichoke/garlic oil in another dish is fantastic and ties everything together.
Get Ina and Co. to write that memoir.
Lessons Learned: Since neither artichokes nor plums are in season right now (hello winter) and we don’t have a grill in our 12th floor apartment the recipe choices were narrowed down considerably. Good thing I love breakfast - Tri-Berry Pancakes it is! It’s small kitchen-friendly: 2 mixing bowls, 2 small baking dishes, and a few basic kitchen tools are all you need. Ina uses her KitchenAid stand mixer all the time, but with counter space at a premium I used an electric hand mixer. Much easier to put away and worked just fine.
Loved the orange vanilla flavor of the pancakes, which are more savory than sweet until topped with the berries and maple syrup. I’d consider adding a little sugar to the pancake batter and skipping the syrup entirely next time. Final note – the butter coating of the ramekins or gratin dishes is essential. I was generous and my pancakes still stuck a little.
All in all, a winner! And, with the exception of the fresh fruit, if you bake regularly everything else on the ingredient list is probably on hand in in the pantry.