Review by Marty Martindale
The wonderful, buttery, affluent world of Ina Garten — just as there is a cult following for Harry Potter — broomstick dueling, secret places and predictable sequences — the Contessa’s delicious world has its predictabilities too.
Always welcoming is the Contessa’s large, rambling weathered-shingled, brightly-lit home in the fashionable Hamptons. It allows abundant sunshine into her bright and busy TV kitchen where she shares her prepared menu. The house is also close to the beach and has a garden always filled with last-minute herbs and flowers with large blossoms. She has a penchant for centerpiece types like hydrangeas, so showy and perfect in sleek, tall, crystal cylinders. Her table linens and dishes, predictably casual are of highest quality.
The Contessa’s husband, her beloved Jeffrey, appears to be a weekday business world warrior returning triumphantly Friday evenings to each week’s chicken feast, usually a highly-caloric creation with simple vegetables, an exotic dessert and sparkling, potent, picture-perfect, fresh-fruit-laden cocktails and later maybe a continental liquor of the Contessa’s choosing. They usually feast in front of the fireplace.
The Barefoot Contessa, left each week with an ample budget, comes from a busy catering career and busies herself in Jeffrey’s absence with foods she presents in many venues, sometimes the beach, at friend’s homes, at business openings or for small get-togethers at her own home. When the script’s timing permits, the Contessa packs us up in her snappy convertible and motors us through the quaint Hamptons to her sample-urging cheese store, her amiable butcher, her desperate-to-please baker or her favorite spirits vendor.
At the end of each episode, we always get to meet her guests who seem to be live, non-actors, genuinely eager to dine on her offerings. No show is complete without at least one of Garten’s rhetorical questions.
“How Easy is That?” is one of them which happens to be the title of her latest book of “fabulous recipes and easy tips.” Below is an example of but a few of her offerings:
ONION & FENNEL SOUP GRATIN – Simply made from butter, olive oil, dry sherry, Cognac, white wine, broth, bay leaves and bread boule and Gruyere cheese
HUMMUS – Canned chickpeas, sesame paste, garlic, lemon and Tabasco
PARMESAN “RISOTTO” (baked, no standing and stirring) – Stock, Arborio rice, Parmesan cheese, white wine, butter and frozen peas
SCALLOPED TOMATOES – Olive oil, bread crusts, plum tomatoes, garlic, sugar, basil leaves and Parmesan cheese
BANGERS & MUSTARD MASH – Yukon Gold potatoes, butter, milk, crème fraiche, Dijon mustard, whole-grain mustard, dry mustard and chicken or veal sausages
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH – Cubed, peeled squash, olive oil and fresh thyme leaves
RUM RAISIN TIRAMISU – Egg yolks, dark rum, mascarpone cheese, orange juice, vanilla, ladyfinger cookies and semisweet chocolate for garnish.