Amy and the Pesto Pea Salad, three summers ago...maybe four...oh forget it. Once upon a time, we were out in Montauk with our friends Chris and Amy. Amy is a personal trainer, triathlete, and a completely insane cook. Wherever she is, there will be something good to eat.

Before this particular long weekend, I was only vaguely aware of the name Ina Garten (I refer to this era as my ignorant youth). From her kitchen bookshelf, Amy pulled out Barefoot Contessa: At Home, began flipping through pages and said, "There's this little salad I really want to try..."

Little salad. Yeah right. This turned out to be a tremendous salad. It is baby spinach tossed with pesto, peas and pine nuts. Amy whipped it up our first night in Montauk and served it with...I think it was flank steak but I honestly don't remember, I was so consumed with the salad. There wasn't a shred left at the end of the meal and I picked every last pine nut out of the bowl.

The next day, Jeeps and I were hanging around the kitchen while Amy mused about what to make for dinner that night. 

"I have shrimp," she said, poking around in the fridge. "There's this scampi recipe I want to try and I could serve it over pasta, I think I have linguini..."

Jeeps and I exchanged one single, telepathic glance.

"Can we make the spinach salad again?" I asked. "And just serve the shrimp on that?"

Amy popped her head out of a cupboard with raised eyebrows. "Sure!" she laughed. She is an exemplary hostess.

So we ate the salad again with shrimp. That night I ordered my own copy of Barefoot Contessa: At Home so I would never again be without this recipe. I went back home a changed woman. I began bringing that salad with me to parties. Everywhere I took it, it was a hit. 

I give it now to you. Go forth and be a hit.

Barefoot Contessa Pesto Pea Salad

(This is the exact recipe measurements from the book; eventually it becomes something you don't measure)

  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed (about 1/2 bag)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (toast them in a dry saute pan over medium heat, tossing often, until browned. Babysit them as they will burn easily. And by the way, 2 tablespoons turned into more like 1/3 cup for me because I do love me some pignolis)
  • 2 1/2 cups baby spinach (I know, I've never measured cups of salad leaves either)
  • 4 tablespoons pesto (according to your methods, you can hear about mine here)

To assemble the salad, put the spinach in your salad bowl, sprinkle 3/4 of the peas and 1/2 of the pine nuts over the spinach.  Add the pesto and toss. This is more blithe than it sounds. In the beginning the pesto will just be glop and you will fret that it will never distribute evenly over the leaves. It will. Keep scraping it off the salad spoons and keep tossing. It eventually incorporates and it will be beautiful. 

Once it's beautiful, sprinkle the rest of the peas and pine nuts attractively over the top, and then give a nice sprinkle of parmesan. Step back and admire. It's beautiful. You are beautiful.

This salad goes with everything and it can even stand alone. It's terrific with steak, chicken, shrimp and fish. In summer, it goes great with a big platter of corn on the cob, and another plate of sliced tomatoes.

Note: if you bring this salad to a party, don't bring it composed. Bring the ingredients and your salad bowl and assemble it just before the meal is served. Reason being the salad leaves absorb the pesto and very quickly go limp. Which is not beautiful.

Chicken Salad Véronique (although I prefer Betty)

Betty. And Ginger. And Moneypenny. Those are my girls. Anyway, I just realized I didn't follow up the Tarragon Chicken post with the Barefoot Contessa's chicken salad for next day's lunch, so here it is. Obviously I skipped the first few steps in the recipe because I was using leftovers. Just goes to show you should always have two extra breasts.

...Never mind.

Ina Garten's Chicken Salad Véronique

  • 4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good mayonnaise (the Countess approves of Hellmann's, thank God)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 cup small-diced celery (2 stalks)
  • 1 cup green grapes, cut in half

Preheat oven to 350

Place chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cool

Remove meat from bones and discard along with skin (or if no one is looking, eat the skin. C'mon, who are we kidding here?). Cut the chicken into 3/4 inch dice. Place chicken in a bowl, add mayonnaise, tarragon, celery and grapes. Toss well and salt and pepper to taste.

Bon luncheon, Betty!

Parmesan Chicken

This is another Ina Garten miracle which takes basic breaded chicken cutlets and gives them that extra somethin-somethin'. I've made these with seasoned bread crumbs, and also with panko breadcrumbs. I've used the fresh breadcrumbs as well but it's a different texture. For these, I actually prefer the dried.

Parmesan Chicken

  • Chicken breast cutlets, pounded to 1/4" thickness (you can use whole cutlets, or cut into fingers, or even into nuggets)
  • 1 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs or seasoned panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (I buy what's called "homestyle" parmesan which is very fine shreds, and it works fine)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Set up one shallow dish with the flour, another with the eggs, another with the breadcrumbs mixed with the parmesan.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.

Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess. Dredge in the eggs, then in the breadcrumbs, patting them gently to make them stick.

Fry both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes a side. Keep warm on a platter while you fry the rest.

Redman refers to this as chicken-in-the-pan and always must have applesauce or stewed apples on the side.

Easy. Peasy. Lemon squeezy.


Ricotta Cheese: How easy was that?

Ina Garten, I love thee. I kiss your bare feet. Maybe not. Anyway I heard you on the radio last month (for Leonard Lopate's interview on WNYC click here) talking about your new book Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? And you started talking about homemade ricotta cheese. Leonard sniffed at the idea, wondering if it were too much trouble, and you gave him a gracious smackdown, distilling the process into three stupidly simple steps. You mentioned you had taught Nora Ephron (I love thee, Nora, I miss you so so much) how to do it and she called you later and said she'd made ricotta cheese four times in one week. I was sold. I had to try this.

Ina Garten's Homemade Ricotta Cheese

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar (I wasn't sure what she meant by good, I assumed that it should cost more than 99 cents. I bought Star because I like the shape of the bottle. We're not going for refined here, folks)
  • Cheesecloth (you don't eat it but you'll need it on your shopping list, unless you are one of those refined kinds who has cheesecloth to hand in your kitchen.)

Did you know that a quart of milk such as pictured above has exactly 4 cups? And that size of heavy cream has exactly 2 cups? I didn't either. Now we know.

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan, stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into the thick parts (the curds) and the milky parts (the whey)

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl (and occasionally jiggling the cheesecloth so you can see that yes, you really really have made cheese!). The longer you let it stand, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the cheese to a bowl. Taste it immediately because you won't believe how good it is. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 5 days.

So? (Or as my friend Debbie would say, Nu?)


Easy? Totally. Worth it?  Oh yeah. Complaints? Well, in regards to "occasionally discarding the liquid in the bowl", you really do end up pouring a lot of your milk and cream down the sink which seems like such a waste. I'm sure there's something you can do with whey although I'm forever biased by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who tasted the whey in Little House in the Big Woods and didn't like it.

So what do you do with this stunning bit of dairy deliciousness? Ina's idea was to mix the ricotta with herbs and make little bruschettas. So I did just that.  Ina's recipe was to blend in minced scallions, fresh dill and fresh chives.  I only had scallions, dried dill, and chopped parsley so I mixed that up. I toasted my bread, drizzled with olive oil, spread the cheese on......and ate three of them. Myself. Without sharing.

Besides the bruschetta, I have been sneaking spoonfuls of this out of the fridge, my daughter eats it on any available cracker, and tonight we put it in panzarella. Totally totally delicious and yes, stupid easy. Who knows, maybe I'll become one of those refined types who has cheesecloth to hand in my kitchen.