Saturday, April 21, 2007

Back To Basics, But Shouldn't They At Least Be Good, Giada?

Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis

Giada's Kitchen Basics
Linguine with Shrimp and Lemon Oil
Quick and Spicy Tomato Soup
Arugula Endive Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette
Berry Strata

To get the recipes:
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We see Giada shopping at Wild Oats. Too bad they've been bought out by Whole Foods and we'll have fewer choices of great places to shop. (Whole Foods is great, but Wild Oats has some great stuff too.)

Today, she's going to show us meals that can be cooked from our pantries. Now, just for a moment, let's analyse the difference between what her recipes will be like and what Sandra Lee's (who prides herself on her den of iniquity called a pantry) would be like. First of all, Giada's food won't have any unholy overly neon colors, and the only fizz will come from Prosecco, not a powdery substance. On second thought, let's NOT do that. We know what Giada produces will be worthy of being eaten, while with Sandy's, we have no such assurance.

Giada tell us to keep our pantry stocked with her basics and we'll be ready to cook anytime.

She's starting with a Berry Strata. Am I the only one that notices that she's JUST made a strata? In fact, I commented on how unusual it was to have a sweet strata - it was the first time I had ever seen one. And here we have another. Is that good programming? Even if the shows were made months apart, shouldn't the folks-in-charge have thought of that? I'm not holding that against Giada. I can't even say the number of times I've made Chicken Marbella and called it something else to get away with serving it 3 or 4 times a month, which wouldn't be such a problem...if it hadn't been for the last TWENTY YEARS!!!!

I digress...Giada tells us this is so versatile that it can be made for breakfast OR dessert. She starts by melting some butter with honey. The butter thins out the honey. That's an interesting way to look at it. Then eggs go in. Strata means layers in Italian, says Giada. A layer of custard, a layer of bread and so on, but here she's going to mix it all together. That's fine by me.

Giada always has ricotta in her fridge. It should be at room temperature for making the strata. That gets mixed with milk. "I always have milk in my fridge." Ok, ok, we get the idea that this show is about what food you have lying around the house...stop stating the obvious. I always have gummy bears and fig newtons. That doesn't mean they go into every dish I cook.

The Strata gets finished with orange juice, the butter and honey and frozen berries. (Guess who always has them lying-in-wait in the freezer?) Giada puts it in an oval gratin-type baking dish - exactly what I would use. The recipe says to put it in a 2 quart or 10 inch round baking dish. What would that be? A 2 quart round dish is a soufflé dish, which would be too deep. A 10 inch round dish would be a pie plate, which would be too shallow and the whole strata would be very dried out. Even though we haven't actually gone out and bought new food for this recipe, I'd be pissed if I cooked it in the wrong thing and it didn't turn out. Use the gratin dish.

The strata goes into the oven. I LOVE the oven shots. How DO they do that? She takes it out. Oooh, it smells like berries and cream. She takes a HUGE serving. There's is no way she's going to eat all of that. She takes a bite and SQUEALS with delight, I'm not kidding. Ok, whatever floats your boat...

Giada moves on to the linguine with shrimp and lemon oil. 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil gets mixed with the zest of one lemon and set aside. The lemon was taken from a bowl of maybe THIRTY lemons, that Giada keeps around. How come the lemons that I keep around always look shrivelled and brown and these look beautiful? She seasons the pasta water really well, so she doesn't have to add too much salt later on. She cooks and drains the pasta. Keep back a cup of the pasta water. That's a good idea, no matter what pasta dish you're making. You may need to thin the sauce a bit or just bring everything together. Now, you have this nice already-seasoned water to do it with.

She sautés the shallots and garlic and adds frozen shrimp and more fresh lemon zest. Shrimp is a freezer staple for Giada, she tells us. But she never thaws them before cooking. "If you overcook them, they lose that sweetness and they get kind of rubbery." Add the linguine to the pan. And she likes to add something "clean and fresh", hence plenty of fresh arugula gets added with parsley. Strain the lemon zest out of the reserved oil and stir that in.

This dish looks tasty, but I must say we've seen something like this a million times from her AND Ina. Ina's recipe will always have more flavor, because when she calls something LEMON, it hits you over the head with its lemon-ness (in a good way). Michael Chiarello seems to have backed away from such an obvious rendition. His version would probably be packed with different kinds of shellfish and lots more herbs. But I guess she was cleaning out her pantry, so we'll have to give her a break.

Next is a "fantastic soup". I'm looking forward to it. Giada heats her oil, so that when the carrots, onions and garlic hit, they can begin cooking right away. Smart, but be careful not to let anything brown, because the garlic will become bitter. While that's cooking, get the beans ready(?) You mean open the can? Oh, you mean OPEN the can and then DRAIN and RINSE them. Oh, ok, that's different.

She's going to show us a little trick now. I wonder what it is...Store bought marinara sauce? What? That's not a trick, as in truc, like a GOOD shortcut. That's just nasty. Do you really want to dilute marinara sauce, add some beans and call it soup? NO! That reminds me of the stories you hear about people who dilute ketchup to make soup. But THAT'S a legitimate cost-cutting measure, when you're really counting every penny.

But to use a jar of tomato sauce, which I have no problem using in a baked pasta dish (which has a lot of other stuff in it) or as the sauce on a homemade pizza, as the base of a soup, is just plain unappetizing and frankly, rather surprising. I don't think Grandma would approve. She's adding low sodium chicken stock and red pepper flakes. Oh, I don't like this at all and if she adds frozen spinach (no doubt she always keeps it in her frickin' freezer), I'm going to punch somebody. Wait, it's worse, she's adding pastina. How many times do I have to say that you should NEVER add UNCOOKED pasta to a soup or stew? It drinks up the liquid faster than a pony at a rodeo. Of course, here that might be a good thing, but still don't do it. Cook the pasta (al dente)... separately...and then add it to the dish. I'm sorry, this is simply a rotten recipe.

I take a quick look at Lidia's Italy to see what she would do for a bean soup. She does use dried beans, which I would rarely do. But what she does do is to make a really flavorful base for the soup with vegetables and some kind of pork product, one recipe uses pork ribs, another sausage. You don't want pork? Get a thick piece of Turkey Ham, dice it and cook it with vegetables. You don't want any meat? Fine, triple the onions in Giada's recipe (and sweat the veggies a good 20 minutes or even longer), and add good canned plum tomatoes, not sauce. And serve it with pecorino. Here's another idea. A few shows back, Giada put a Parmesan cheese rind in the soup. This is the perfect place for that. Gosh, do I have to think of everything???

I'm almost scared to see what she does next. An arugula salad. How original! And how is that in keeping with the theme? I would have been more impressed if she had managed to make a salad using canned beets and frozen lima beans. Of course, I wouldn't have eaten it, but at least I wouldn't have had to go the store to get the arugula and endive.

She makes the vinaigrette in a blender. Finally something I'm down with. Good girl, Giada. White wine, lemon juice, honey and mustard go in. (Mustard is something I always try to have 2 or 3 jars of in my pantry.) Blend for a minute, then add the olive gradually with the motor running, so the ingredients incorporate really well. I'M SORRY, GIADA, THAT'S JUST NOT TRUE!!! You don't have to do that. I have been making salad dressing in a blender, since the 20th century and I'm here to tell you that you may bung in all of the ingredients together and then blend. That's it. End of story. No drizzling, dripping, dropping or dragging your heels. You just blend it A LOT and you will have a perfect emulsion. Even if you use equal parts of oil to acid, the blender will take care of it and mix it beautifully. Do we have that straight?

Giada, who surprisingly seems immune to my rantings, chops up Belgian endive. I hate endive. I know it adds a light light green whitish color that plays off darker green leaves beautifully, but it's too bitter for my, normally, very sweet personality. She combines the dressing with the arugula, endive and toasted walnuts. A not so sensational ending to a not so sensational show.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm so impressed with your comments. They're so right on--& your humor too. Keep the critiques coming--who know--it just might be your calling in life. :oP

Nirmala said...

I've made the lemon shrimp linguine and it's very good. I use half the oil and double the arugula though. I would be interested in seeing Ina's take though.