Watch Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, put together a beautiful meal for friends in her gorgeous East Hampton home and tell viewers it’s not hard, using her signature quip, “How easy is that?” That’s the title of her new book, Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? which Clarkson Potter will publish in October. Here, Garten talks about how easy it is to come up with book ideas—and to whip up a batch of her watermelon mojitos (read on for the recipe).
PW: This is your seventh cookbook. Is it hard for you to come up with new ideas?
IG: After the first book, [The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, 1999], I thought, well, that's it. And the publisher [Clarkson Potter] called and said, ‘We need another book immediately!’ I thought, I don't have any more recipes! But then I thought, okay, I have one more book in me; I could do parties [Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2001]. That would really be the end. But at some point, I don't know how it happened or when it happened, in the process I found myself coming up with ideas. It just kicks in and I find inspiration anywhere. I could sit down and write 100 ideas of things I'd like to make. I used to not know how I was going to write another book but now as long as people are willing to buy them I have so many ideas.
PW: How Easy Is That? is about “saving time and avoiding stress while having fun in the kitchen.” To that end, you don’t include many recipes that involve grilling, sauteeing, stir-frying, or “other labor-intensive techniques.” But many cookbooks tout those ways of cooking as the easiest.
IG: I do a lot of sauteeing. It's great. But you have to watch it. I'd much rather have a recipe like Easy Provencal Lamb, where you put everything all in one big pan and put it in the oven at one temperature and take it out when it's done. It's one process. The perfect example is the [new book's “Easy Parmesan”] risotto. Normally with risotto you have to stir it for 25 minutes and you can't walk away from it. But the risotto that I make, you put everything in the pan, put it in the oven, and when it comes our you stir it really rigorously and that brings out the starch. I find it easier to put something in the oven and forget about it than to sautee something. There's a difference for me between quick and easy. Easy to me is: I don't have to worry about it, even if it might take longer to cook. But if you want something quick and easy then sauteeing is the way to go.
PW: Has the way you write recipes changed over the years? Some cookbooks seem to be giving more direction than cookbooks used to.
IG: I haven't changed what I've done. I've always thought that if people are nervous cooking, they want somebody on their shoulder saying, ‘It's going to look like this and look like that.’ Everybody's stove is different, and everybody's equipment is different, so I've always been fairly specific. I work on a recipe over and over again and then I hand [it on] a piece of paper to my assistant. She's a good home cook but not a trained cook, and I watch her make it. I add steps in that will answer her questions. I know what somebody at home is going to do with the printed page because I've just seen somebody do it. I find pictures distracting. If it's described in words it's exactly as it's supposed to be. Sometimes there's a note saying, ‘Don't be surprised; it'll look curdled,’ so you know whether it's a mistake or not. And if it is a mistake you know how to fix it. I want people to think that I'm talking them through it.
PW: I read in Vanity Fair that the Watermelon Mojito is your favorite summer cocktail. It sounds pretty great…
IG: Does it every time.
Watermelon Mojitos from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?
30 large fresh mint leaves
3 to 4 thick slices fresh watermelon
12 ounces light rum, such as Bacardi
½ cup simple syrup (see note)
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (3 limes)
Sprigs of mint and spears of watermelon, for serving
Use a mortar and pestle to mash the mint leaves. Remove and discard the rind and seeds of the watermelon. Put the fruit into a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree. Put the mashed mint into a large pitcher with 2 cups of pureed watermelon, the rum, simple syrup, and lime juice and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a pitcher for serving.
Place ice cubes in 6 glasses and pour the mojito mixture into the glasses. Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint and spears of watermelon. Serve ice cold.
Note: to make simple syrup, put 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small pan and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Chill.