Like many of us, culinary legend Ina Garten was overwhelmedwhen the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it prompted her to rethink the way she made weeknight dinners and food for small gatherings.
Fast forward to a few years later, and she’s put what she learned into “Go-To Dinners,” the latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook, out now. It’s filled with recipes for simple meals including many make-ahead dishes that can be frozen and reheated.
“Everybody’s really kind of struggling because everything seems so much harder,” Garten tells USA TODAY. “And we’re all kind of exhausted. So I just thought, the easier I can make recipes for people the happier they’ll be.”
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The book includes recipes for “Overnight Mac & Cheese,” “Chicken in a pot with Orzo,” and “Cacio e Pepe Asparagus.” It even includes recipes that require no cooking at all, just assembly with store-bought ingredients.
During the pandemic, Garten posted on Instagram to ask if her followers knew what to do with groceries that had been in the pantry for some time. She found that people were having trouble finding what to make with items with a long shelf life like beans.
So, she started posting daily recipes on the social media platform in an effort to help. It became quite a commitment though.
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“In the middle of all that I was making breakfast, lunch and dinner for Jeffrey and me,” she says, referring to her husband. “It was just overwhelming. And I thought, ‘I really need to rethink how I make dinner.'”
She started making meals like breakfast for dinner or pea soup with kielbasa for dinner.
Garten was making meals that were satisfying and delicious. But, she wasn’t making dinner in the way she typically has — making a meat, starch and vegetable.
She learned to let go of “traditional ideas” of what dinner is and should be. And she hopes readers will, too — even when company is involved.
“Even my guests are delighted with breakfast for dinner,” she says, noting that when hosting you can order a pizza and make a great Caesar salad on the side, rather than cooking the entire meal. “It doesn’t have to be the way we used to do things… we can rethink things and make them easier.”
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Especially when hosting a company, whether you can make a big dinner shouldn’t be a barrier. What’s really so special about food, Garten says, is that it brings people together.
“If you say, ‘I love you, come to dinner,’ who’s gonna say no? Everybody says yes,” Garten says, repeating the invitational phrase she also uses in the cookbook.