Barefoot Contessa’s Modern Comfort Food
“When I was a kid my mother would cut up hot dogs to add to canned split pea soup for me to eat,” Ina Garten tells me from the barn in West Hampton, New York where she creates and tests the recipes published in her cookbooks, including the latest “Modern Comfort Food” and on the her Food Network show Barefoot Contessa.
I tell her that I ate so much split pea soup when I was a kid that my mother told me I was going to turn green. Garten laughs though it really isn’t very funny. It’s just the way she is. Polite and friendly, as if she and I are good friends rather me interviewing her in a spot where her phone gets very poor reception. That’s for sure. During the course of a 45-minute call, we get disconnected at least five times.
But back to the split pea soup. When Garten was thinking up recipes for “Modern Comfort Food,” the 12th in her Barefoot Contessa series, it was one of the dishes she wanted to include. But not just any old split pea soup.
“My soup is from scratch and instead of hot dogs, I sauteed kielbasa,” she says. I love the way crispy sausage and the creamy soup contrast with each other.”
Using her culinary magic, among the 85 recipes in her book she transforms the grilled cheese of childhood into Cheddar & Chutney Grilled Cheese and the frozen pot pies your mom kept in the freezer in case she was late getting home morph into Chicken Pot Pie Soup with Puff Pastry Croutons. Burnt hamburgers made by your dad the one time he tried to grill are now Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions.
When I mention that I love her recipes because they always work and that often with celebrity cookbooks it’s just the opposite, she responds with a laugh, saying “ya’think?”
Her recipes, on the other hand, are strenuously tested. It took her six years to perfect her recipe for Boston Cream Pie. She just couldn’t get it right until she finally found the exact flavor matches for the cake, chocolate glaze and pastry cream layers.
Some, no make that most, of us would have given up or just said “good enough.” But not Garten which is why the Boston Cream Pie she hoped to put in two cookbooks ago didn’t make it until this one.
“Sometimes it takes me a day to create a recipe that works just right, sometimes weeks or even months,” she says, noting that she loves getting up in the morning knowing she has a long list of recipes to test.
She also has advice on how to use her recipes.
“Do it once the way it’s written using the same ingredients, then you’ll know the way it is supposed to be,” she says, noting that someone once complained about one of her recipes not working and when she drilled down as to why, discovered that out of the seven ingredients called for, they didn’t use three. “It’s like someone saying the chocolate cake didn’t turn out and then they tell you they didn’t use any chocolate in it.”
Chicken Pot Pie Soup
3 chicken breasts, skin-on, bone-in (2½ to 3 pounds total)
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
5 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (3 leeks) (see note)
4 cups chopped fennel, tops and cores removed (2 bulbs)
3 cups (½-inch) diced scrubbed carrots (5 medium)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
¼ cup Wondra flour
¾ cup cream sherry, divided
7 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (2 × 3-inch) piece of Italian
Parmesan cheese rind
1 (10-ounce) box frozen peas
1 cup frozen whole pearl onions
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the chicken on a sheet pan skin side up, rub the skin with olive oil, and
season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, until a
thermometer registers 130 to 140 degrees. Set aside until cool enough to
handle. Remove and discard the skin and bones and cut the chicken in 1-inch
dice. Set aside.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium (11 to 12-inch) heavy-bottomed pot or
Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the leeks, fennel, and
carrots, and sauté over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally,
until the leeks are tender but not browned.
Stir in the garlic and tarragon and cook for one minute. Sprinkle on the flour
and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of the sherry, the
chicken stock, 4 teaspoons salt, 1½ teaspoons pepper, and the Parmesan rind.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
Add the chicken, peas, and onions and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Off
the heat, remove the Parmesan rind and add the remaining ¼ cup of sherry
and the parsley. Serve hot in large shallow bowls with two Puff Pastry Croutons
Note: To prep the leeks, cut off the dark green leaves at a 45-degree angle and
discard. Chop the white and light green parts, wash well in a bowl of water,
and spin dry in a salad spinner. Wet leeks will steam rather than sauté.
Puff Pastry Croutons -Makes 12 croutons
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farm, defrosted (see note)
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Lightly dust a board and rolling pin with flour. Unfold the sheet of puff pastry
on the board, dust it lightly with flour, and lightly roll the pastry just to smooth
out the folds.
With a star-shaped or fluted round cookie cutters, cut 12 stars, or rounds of
pastry and place them on the prepared sheet pan. Brush the tops with the egg
wash, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until puffed
and golden brown.
Defrost puff pastry overnight in the refrigerator. You want the pastry to be very
cold when you bake it. make ahead: Prepare the pastry cutouts and refrigerate.
Bake just before serving.
Boston Cream Pie
Makes one 9 – inch cake / serves 8
For the cake:
¾ cup whole milk
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
for the soak:
¹⁄₃ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¹⁄₃ cup sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
For the chocolate glaze:
¾ cup heavy cream
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips, such as Nestlé’s (7½ ounces)
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, broken in pieces
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant coffee granules, such as Nescafé
Grand Marnier Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round baking pans, line
them with parchment paper, butter and flour the pans, and tap out the excess
flour. Set aside.
For the cake, scald the milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat
(see note). Off the heat, add the vanilla and orange zest, cover the pan, and set
aside. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs
and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, until thick and light yellow
and the mixture falls back on itself in a ribbon. By hand, first whisk in the
warm milk mixture and then slowly whisk in the flour mixture. Don’t overmix!
Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until
a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15
minutes, then turn them out onto a baking rack, flipping them so the top sides
are up. Cool to room temperature.
For the soak, combine the orange juice and sugar in a small (8-inch) sauté pan
and heat until the sugar dissolves. Off the heat, add the Grand Marnier and set
For the chocolate glaze, combine the heavy cream, semisweet chocolate chips,
bittersweet chocolate, corn syrup, vanilla, and coffee in a heatproof bowl set
over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, just until
the chocolates melt. Remove from the heat and set aside for 25 to 30 minutes,
stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is thick enough to fall back onto itself
in a ribbon.
To assemble, cut both cakes in half horizontally. Place the bottom of one cake
on a flat plate, cut side up. Brush it with a third of the soak. Spread a third of
the Grand Marnier Pastry Cream on the cake. Place the top of the first cake on
top, cut side down, and repeat with the soak and pastry cream. Place the
bottom of the second cake on top, cut side up. Repeat with the soak and pastry
cream. Place the top of the second cake on top, cut side down. Pour the
ganache on the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Set aside for one hour,