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: “Barefoot Celebrations: Cocktails for a Crowd”
The Set-up: Ina’s throwing a garden party for the East Hampton Historical Society
The Menu: Caramelized Bacon, Potato Basil Frittata, Roasted Shrimp with Green Goddess Dressing
0:33 – Ina loves the East Hampton Historical Society and decided to throw them a party in her garden complete with a Champagne Cocktail Bar in their honor. Note to self: join the EHHS.
0:54 – Ina clearly subscribes to the “surprise and delight” philosophy of entertaining – no pigs in a blanket for her just straight up BACON. You heard me. She’s serving bacon as an appetizer, which is Mike’s idea of heaven.
1:07 – So, technically it’s Caramelized Bacon which involves a topping of brown sugar, pecans, cayenne pepper, and maple sugar. Ina says what we’re all thinking at this point, “this is crazy-good on bacon.”
2:01 – Ina claims this is one of the more “outrageous” appetizers she’s ever made, but let’s be fair, you know this will be gone fast than you can say “caramelized bacon.” Less bacon, please, said no one ever.
4:39 – Now we’re treated to a tour of several charmingly preserved historic sites in East Hampton. Perhaps some ideas to add to your itinerary?
5:17 – Back to Ina’s to make the Potato Basil Frittata, an old favorite from her catering days. Ina has a ton of advice for successful cocktail party planning and proceeds to share about 1,000 great tips - write these down!
5:55 – Pro Tip #1: plan for 5-6 different appetizers that balance between meat, fish, and vegetarian so all your guests will find something they can eat. Pro Tip #2: Don’t try to make everything yourself - buy some, assemble some, and make some. Pro Tip #3: Choose appetizers that can be served at room temperature so you can make them ahead of time. And, finally Pro Tip #4: When calculating amounts assume a count of 6-8 pieces per guest. Whew! Did you get all that?
10:13 – Proceeding with the frittata, Ina adds a little flour to the egg, ricotta, and gruyere mixture which she says gives it some body and makes it easier to cut into squares later. This advice may qualify as Pro Tip #5… she’s really racking them up!
12:24 – The Caramelized Bacon is done and the Potato Basil Frittata is in the oven, so now we’re out in the garden. Ina cuts the most gorgeous pale cream dahlias for the table. It must have been high summer when she filmed this because everything is in full bloom and the afternoon sun is streaming through the hedges. I may have paused the episode for several moments to soak it all in.
13:18 – Next up some flower arranging lessons. Pro Tip #6: Arrange the stems as they grow in the garden - differing heights, keep the un-opened buds and a few leaves for greenery - building the bouquet in your hand. Adjust the placement as needed and then cut the stems to the right height for your vase.
14:11 – More expert advice on buffet tables - I can barely absorb all these tips! Pro Tip #7: fold the floor length white tablecloth into a boxed pleat to keep the extra fabric out of the way and top with a patterned (in this case floral) square cloth. Placing the patterned cloth on the diagonal is a little jauntier (my word, not hers.)
14:56 – Now Ina is ready to set up the cocktail components. A punch bowl for chilling the champagne and sparkling water is placed in the middle with graduated rows of glasses on either side. She also puts out Cassis, Framboise, brandy, and several juices and fruits, so that guests can make their own concoctions. I can’t wait to see some boozy historians…
19:35 – Ina is making the Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Green Goddess Dressing next, but pauses for a moment to encourage us to send handwritten invitations and require RSVPs.
19:39 – I’m 100% on board with RSVP-ing, but I swear the only handwritten invitation I’ve ever received was for a 6th grade birthday sleepover. The ensuing party was later re-named “Sleeping Beauty and the Night Raiders,” and we’re still apologizing to Kate’s mom for the ruckus… Sorry! /end digression.
21:26 – Okay, the shrimp are doing their thing (olive oil, salt, pepper) in the oven and Ina is “updating” the Green Goddess Dressing recipe with scallions and basil in place of tarragon. I usually avoid eating or serving things that have strong garlic or onion flavors at social events, but Ina’s the expert here, so I’m trying to trust her judgment. It is a lovely pale spring green – so that’s a plus.
27:34 – Now we’re onto the ‘buy’ and ‘assemble’ part of the menu. First, Marcona almonds tipped into a silver dish and sprinkled with sea salt. That is literally the only step.
27:42 – Second, smoked chicken breast sliced, plated, and served with store-bought horseradish sauce. Party prep is now D-O-N-E and I think plating took longer than the preparing. Clever girl.
28:12 – The EHHS guests have arrived and are strolling in the garden sniffing the lavender, the Veuve Cliquot is flowing, and Ina has enlisted a few guests to pass some appetizers. I would happily carry a platter of bacon around if it meant I could hang with Ina for an afternoon. Call me!
29:00 – The party concludes at the invitation-specified 8pm on the dot and Ina’s done for the day!
So many good Pro Tips in this episode for successful cocktail parties – drinks, appetizers, flower arrangements – I need to remember these next time we entertain!
I love how practical Ina is. Similar to her advice in the “Make It Fast” episode, many of these recommendations are stress-reducing and make hosting more enjoyable.
Mike tried to get me to serve bacon apps at our holiday party, and now that it’s Ina-approved I think he’s going to get his way next time…
Lessons Learned: Unlike the recipes I’ve shown so far, I have actually made the Potato Basil Frittata before and I want to point out that there are two recipes that differ mainly in cooking time and ingredient quantities: Number One uses a sauté pan for cooking the potatoes and baking the frittata. Number Two is the recipe Ina made in the episode. The potatoes are cooked in a sauté pan and then transferred to a separate sheet pan to bake the frittata.
For my attempt I followed quantities given in Number One since its yield is more appropriate for two people, but used a pie plate to bake the frittata since my sauté pan was a little too small. I find that the potatoes take a few minutes longer - around 15-20 minutes to soften - but this gives me plenty of time to crack eggs, grate the gruyere, and chop basil, so the work flow is nice and relaxed.
This is definitely a small kitchen friendly recipe - I used a large sauté pan, pie plate, one mixing bowl, a chef’s knife, cutting board, and a few basic kitchen tools (measuring cups, spatula, etc.)
Some additional good news and a thought – the frittata reheats beautifully (even in the microwave) and since it’s easy to put a piece in a to-go container it makes a great leftover to take for lunch. Plus, this base can lend itself to other combinations - ham & Swiss with broccoli, spinach & roasted red pepper with parmesan - really whatever you have a little bit of in the fridge can be added in.
This frittata is one of our favorite dishes and when Mike heard I was making it this week his ears definitely perked up. It’s always nice to have a go-to vegetarian option up your sleeve, and even for meat-eaters the eggs and cheese offer enough protein to make this satisfying. I’ve made it for both brunch and dinner with equal crowd-pleasing success. Definitely add Potato Basil Frittata to your repertoire A.S.A.P.