For years I’ve defined the kind of cooking I do as Italian…with a California twist. So many of the dishes I love best reflect an appreciation of classic Italian home cooking instilled in me from a young age by my grandfather Dino. Today, I am still inspired by many of these dishes, and it’s fun to reinterpret them for my daughter, Jade, as well as for my restaurant and television shows. My versions may be a bit lighter or a little healthier, in keeping with the way most of us want to eat today, but at their cores, these dishes are authentically Italian in spirit.
For the past two years I’ve had the incredible good fortune to be able to shoot my show Giada in Italy on location, first in the beautiful coastal community of Positano and then in Florence, a cosmopolitan city in the heart of Tuscany. Spending extended periods in my home country for the first time since I was a little girl was like recharging some essential batteries I hadn’t even realized were run down. And while the food was comfortingly familiar, the culture was strikingly different from my day-to-day life at home in the States. Seeing the pleasure that Italian home cooks take in every aspect of preparing meals—from visiting the market to search out the very best ingredients, to infusing every dish they cook with their own personality and “secret” touches, to embracing every moment spent at the table as an opportunity for love, laughter, and emotional connection—helped me to get in touch all over again with what I love about cooking. Italians know how to take their time, slow down, and appreciate what they’ve made—and the people they are sharing it with. It’s a lesson we can’t learn too often.
With my suitcases long since unpacked and the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean rather than the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea beckoning me on weekends, I still try to embrace those lessons in cooking from the heart every day, and bring a little taste of la dolce vita
to everything I make. At the same time, I’m mindful of the realities most of us face when it comes to preparing meals, especially during the week, when life can get so hectic that cooking falls to the bottom of a long list of priorities. As a working mother with a demanding day job, I’m all too familiar with the challenges involved in creating wholesome, inviting meals on a daily basis. So, in the recipes that follow, I make allowances for a few good-quality convenience foods when I don’t think they will compromise the final outcome of a dish, and I stay away from ingredients, no matter how authentically Italian, if I think you’ll have to hunt high and low to find them. Who needs that extra stress? Most important, I occasionally tiptoe outside the confines of strictly authentic Italian cooking to take advantage of the extraordinary variety of foods and flavors available to American cooks, using them in ways that I know even the most traditional Italian cooks—even Nonno Dino—would approve of.
With this book I’ve broken the recipes into chapters that reflect the way Italians (myself included) like to eat. That said, these categories are just suggestions. Some of my favorite light suppers are in the Lunch and Starters chapters, and many of the “in-betweens” are great for the cocktail hour. I’ve added suggestions throughout for pairing dishes to make complete menus, but you should mix and match as you like best.
LUNCH: These lighter, simpler meals include soups, salads, and more casual dishes that are still satisfying.
IN-BETWEENS: This chapter explains a lot about Italians and how they view mealtimes—and the time in between.
For Italians, pizza, a crostini, or a panini is something to eat as a midafternoon pick-me-up, not the main event. Growing up, we used to have pizza as an appetizer when dinner was served on the late side, and a crostini or even a panini was my usual after-school snack.
WEEKNIGHTS: These dishes are fast, easy, and comforting.
LA DOLCE VITA: These more traditional dishes may take a bit longer to prepare (although much of the cooking time will be unattended).
Like me, the recipes in this book are Italian through and through, yet completely at home in an American kitchen. I hope they will help you channel the spirit of those big-hearted Italian cooks and rediscover the simple pleasures of feeding food you feel good about to the people you care about.
Copyright © 2018 by Giada De Laurentiis. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.