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Tuesday, October 20 Living

‘Little did I know’: Ina Garten’s new cookbook finds comfort amid chaos

When culinary doyenne Ina Garten was working on her latest cookbook, “Modern Comfort Food,” she knew it would come out near the end of the presidential election cycle, and that many Americans would be physically and emotionally drained, and looking to find a little joy in a warm bowl of soup, or a gooey grilled cheese.

“Little did I know the layers of stress that would be coming on top of that,” says Garten, who has a home in Fairfield’s Southport section and grew up in Stamford.

Not long after Garten finished the book in early March, the COVID-19 pandemic started in earnest, forcing millions of Americans into their homes and, as it turned out, their kitchens. Cooking and baking became popular activities, as people sought a way to console themselves and keep busy.

Garten, meanwhile, hustled to re-write the forward of her book, to reflect this new normal. “I realized that, to not acknowledge it was to sound like I was living on Mars,” she says.

Instead, “Modern Comfort Food,” which was released Tuesday, feels oddly prescient. In the revamped forward, Garten talks about the uncertainty of these times. “I have no idea when it will end, or what devastation it will cause,” she writes. “People are isolated and stressed.”

In times like these, she writes, it’s only normal that people turn to foods that are “familiar, delicious and soul-satisfying.”

The book contains recipes for many foods that meet this description, including Ultimate Beef Stew, Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions and Boston Cream Pie.

“Comfort Food” is Garten’s 12th cookbook. She’s also known for her hit Food Network series “The Barefoot Contessa,” which has won three Emmys. Her primary residence is in East Hamptom, N.Y.

Garten says, when choosing recipes for the book, she wanted to start with dishes or concepts that were familiar, but “do it in a fresh way.”

For instance, the book’s take on beef stew swaps short ribs for the usual boneless chuck, and replaces bacon with pancetta. The recipe for the classic comfort lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup adds chutney to the sandwich and saffron to the soup.

There’s also a recipe for Split Pea Soup with Crispy Kielbasa, which was inspired by something Garten’s mom made her as a child — canned pea soup spiked with cut-up hot dogs.

Soups in general have been a favorite of Garten’s during the pandemic lockdown, and she says that the split pea soup in particular has been in heavy rotation. In many ways, she says, soups are a perfect comfort food.

“I like things that are warm,” Garten says. “Soups fill you up the way other things don’t. And they’re good for you. They have lots of vegetables. They have all the food groups.”

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Other recipes in the book include a Boston Cream Pie, which Garten says she sought to perfect for years. “I think I finally nail it in this book,” she says.

Though Garten loves carby, rich, indulgent, comfort food, there is at least one such item that she’s never been able to embrace — boxed macaroni and cheese. Though she knows people love the convenience food for its ease and familiarity, she is very much not on board.

“I’ve never eaten a box of mac and cheese,” Garten says, adding that she’s never seen the need. “You can make it from scratch and it doesn’t take that long.”

Like everyone else, Garten is unsure and anxious about these difficult times, and what comes next. But she says one positive is that people seem to have embraced cooking and baking, and she expects that to continue even after the pandemic loosens its grip.

“We’ve slowed down, and that slowing down has given us a sense of satisfaction that we didn’t expect to find,” Garten says. “If we can keep it going, that would be great.”

Amanda Cuda is a staff writer.

Amanda Cuda|Health reporter

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