Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Italian Old and New”
The Set-up: Ina is taking inspiration from classic Italian flavors and new combinations.
0:33 – We start out in Ina’s walled kitchen garden where the tomatoes are as high as an elephant's eye, or something.
1:02 – She claims that the first time she planted tomatoes she over did it and ended up with about “200,000 tomatoes.” Probably only a slight exaggeration.
2:19 – Ina has also collected a big bunch of basil from the garden destined to become the pesto topping our Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto.
3:11 – Pro Tip #1: Place the tomato slices directly on the sheet pan so that they brown a bit when roasted.
4:24 – Pesto has been whirled around and during the basil picking process we get Pro Tip #2: to keep basil fresh and green in the refrigerator, wash and very thoroughly dry it. Then store in a plastic ziptop bag with a slightly damp paper towel.
5:38 – The tomatoes are out of the oven and now get a generous slather of pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese before going back in the oven to toast up.
6:26 – OMG those look so flipping amazing I had to pause and go to the freezer to take out the pesto I made last month, you know just in case….
10:07 – Back in the kitchen with Antonia an O.G. Friend of Ina to make, you guessed it: Antonia’s Pasta Alle Melenzana (Eggplant Pasta)! You can tell Antonia is good people because she has already added butter to the sauce.
11:40 – I wonder how Ina and Antonia came to terms with their different cooking styles? Antonia seems a bit more laid back with the measuring than our girl.
12:15 – I can already tell that I won’t be making this – it requires blanching and peeling tomatoes. Also, the eggplant look mushy which I cannot abide. Sorry, Antonia!
13:49 – Oh dear, and it requires smooshing the peeled tomatoes through a sieve. This is why canned tomato puree exists! PS: also not terribly small kitchen friendly.
14:31 – This is interesting – Antonia uses two types of mozzarella, a firmer packaged version and a fresh version. The first type creates stringy stretchy-ness the second adds a lighter freshness.
18:04 – Onward to the Three Italian Desserts! Ina says she’s looking for inspiration for these desserts in the liquor store. I’ll just bet she is!
19:33 – The first dessert is a twist on affogato – vanilla ice cream “drowned” in espresso, this time with a shot of hazelnut liqueur (aka Frangelico) and topped with chocolate shavings and chopped hazelnuts.
20:16 – I am 100% on board with Ina’s use of the Nespresso machine for this purpose, A. those things are amazing, and B. this dessert could only be made better through a generous helping of Nutella.
21:48 – Dessert two is a piece of pound cake drizzled with Amaretto, topped with a scoop of vanilla swiss almond ice cream and toasted flaked almonds. Good Lord, I thought the first one was good but I might switch allegiances…
22:52 – As Ina admits, dessert three is more assembly than recipe and mainly involves dipping things in Vin Santo, a Tuscan dessert wine. What I want to know is where Ina found those adorable clementines with their leaves still attached!?
26:27 – Time for Ask Ina! Andrew asks for an Italian recipe that his lactose intolerant vegetarian girlfriend can eat (ie. no meat, no cheese.) Ina suggests an antipasto platter with roasted red pepper, artichoke hearts, or eggplant caponata. She also suggests a simple marinara sauce over spaghetti.
27:43 - Tracy needs help with her watery lasagna. (Eww.) Ina recommends starting with a very thick sauce and thick ricotta, but says she thinks the culprit is the noodles. She says she just soaks them in hot hot water before layering. I suppose this means they’re quite undercooked and then absorb liquid from the sauce?
28:39 – Mark is making his own Italian bread and ask how he can make it taste better? Ina says he needs to add more salt, but after the yeast has had a chance to activate since salt inhibits its growth.
29:51 – Denise is hoping for advice on preserving some of the peppers from her garden. Ina recommends roasting them in the oven and keeping them in the refrigerator covered in olive oil. She signs of with the charge to “think Italian!”
Some day I'll have a garden and then the pesto will flow like wine!
Ina’s ability to present a dessert of biscotti and wine with flair is incredible.
What do you think the weirdest “Ask Ina” question has been?
I decided to make the Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto mainly because it sounded delicious, but also because I’ve never roasted a tomato and if Ina says it’s amazing then it’s definitely something I want to experience.
You might think it’s impossible to learn something from such a simple dish, but never underestimate my ability to muck something up.
Tomato Selection – Ina says in the episode not to use heirlooms because they’re too delicate to stand up to roasting. I’d like to add that choosing a reeeally big tomato is also not advisable due to structural integrity issues. Shoot for a medium sized tomato that will yield slices about 1-1 1/2 inches in diameter (that’s across for those who forgot their 10th grade geometry.)
Tomato Slicing – Again, this is so elementary but could use emphasizing: really do slice the tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. It will seem like overkill, an excessive amount of tomato when each one only gives you 3-4 slices. However, you’ll thank me when after nearly 20 minutes in the oven your tomatoes haven’t cooked into nearly spreadable (but delicious!) softened rounds.
Pesto – I needed basil for another recipe earlier this summer and whipped up a small batch of Ina’s pesto with the remaining leaves which I then stashed in the freezer with layer of olive oil poured over the top. I really can’t recommend this enough – it’s awesome to have something gorgeously summery tucked away that can be defrosted and put into play.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! Assuming you’re making the pesto now, you’ll need a medium sized food processor and measuring cups and spoons. For the tomatoes a medium cutting board, serrated utility knife, microplane zester, rimmed baking sheet, and metal spatula are all you’ll need.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but Mike and I were still blown away by how good the Tomatoes Roasted with Pesto were. Never underestimate Ina's ability to make something classic even better. As Mike pointed out this dish is so simple and unassuming but the results are awesome. Deeply tomato-y from the roasting with the garlic-y richness of the pesto and sprinkled Parmesan cheese this recipe has all the classic notes of pizza, with very little effort and no delivery. At room temperature it made a perfect first course on toast and could easily be an amazing, low-effort appetizer for guests.