Ina Garten’s minestrone soup. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Ina Garten’s minestrone soup. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Tomorrow night at Playhouse Square, I’ll be hosting Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, the brain and heart behind what has become an adored brand. And such is the subject of our talk, business and brands, as well as food and cooking. She, like me, is something of an accident—that is, Garten never set out to do what she is doing. She knew by age thirty that she didn’t want to be entombed as a policy wonk in D.C., so she put a low-bid offer on a prepared foods store in the Hamptons and got it. It had a felicitous name, which she kept, and with absolutely no training, she built it into a solid business, eventually branching out into catering. In 1996, after 18 years, she was ready to move on.

More or less as something to fill the hours while she figured out what the hell she was going to do for the rest of her life—she was pushing fifty, after all, time to get a move on for part II, the stock market, another business, perhaps—she wrote a cookbook. And she sold it to Clarkson Potter. Her store had been in the Hamptons, not Kansas, and powerful people, charmed by her warmth and savvy, had befriended her. But even an intro to the book by Martha Stewart didn’t merit a first run of 10,000 copies. The deal was good only if she agreed to buy half that number to sell at her store.

What did she do? She went the publisher one better, investing heavily in the book on photography, styling, and publicity. The 1999 book became a bestseller and Ina went from well known in the Hamptons to well known throughout the country.

A television show followed, though not without her initial resistance. But once it aired it was so honest, so lacking in the phony good cheer and bullshit that all but defined the dump-and-stir shows of the last decade, even cynincal chefs and Food Network trashers embraced it and her.

All of which is why I’m so eager to talk to her publicly at The State Theater tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Yes, I have a thing for no-bullshit, badass, wicked-smart business women who can cook. What can I say? Hope you’ll join us! (Details on Facebook, or at the initial link.)

I’d been wanting to make a minestrone for a while after my sister-in-law made one over the Thanksgiving weekend, and perusing Ina Garten’s new book, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, in anticipation of tomorrow night, lo and behold! Done. And yep, it’s solid and delicious. Takes a few minutes of chopping, but it comes together in a flash. Be organized, and dinner’s ready in a half hour. (Though I do say I worry about the book’s commercial prospects, only 315 five-star reviews on Amazon….)

I say it all the time and I know Ina joins me: Cook your own food.

Winter Minestrone and Garlic Bruschetta

  • Good olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, ½-inch-diced
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onions
  • 2 cups (½-inch-diced) carrots (3 carrots)
  • 2 cups (½-inch-diced) celery (3 stalks)
  • 2½ cups (½-inch-diced) peeled butternut squash
  • 1½ tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 (26-ounce) can or box diced tomatoes, such as Pomi
  • 6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti
  • 8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup good dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • Garlic Bruschetta (recipe follows)
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, I add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste. Serve large shallow bowls of soup with bruschetta on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8

Garlic Bruschetta

  • 1 French baguette
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, cut in half lengthwise
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C.
  2. Slice the baguette at a 45 degree angle in ½-inch-thick slices. Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil and bake for 6 minutes, until lightly toasted. Take the slices out of the oven and rub the surface of each one with the cut clove of garlic.

Copyright 2012, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, All Rights Reserved


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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.