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.



21 Wonderful responses to “The Remarkable Ina Garten
(with a side of minestrone)”

  • Angela Alaimo

    This is a good soup to toss in one of those parmesan cheese rinds you’ve got stashed in the freezer.

    Love Ina, too. One of the few shows on that sort of food network that I still watch.

  • Natalie B

    Love her. She’s only of the few “star chefs” I truly believe knows what they’re doing.

  • Patricia Talorico

    Michael, best wishes on your chat with Ina. I interviewed her last month on stage at The Grand opera house in Wilmington, Del., and she’s such a warm, interesting person. It was a wonderful, insightful evening and the audience (sold-out) was absolutely charmed by her. Your name even came up during our chat – I’m a fan of your blog and writing.

  • Annika Karr

    This soup looks wonderful! I saw her in Seattle this past fall, and she was as warm, sincere and lovely as she always appears on her show!

  • Nathan Duran

    Find out what her real excuse for bagging on that Make-A-Wish kid dying of leukemia was.

  • former butcher

    Minestrone has always seemed like a “way too many vegetables” soup to me; and it always tastes mostly of the tomatoes (perhaps because they’re always canned). That said, what’s not to like about it?
    It’s a good, hearty soup! I might even give Ina’s recipe a try.

  • Arlene

    Enjoy your time with Ina. One of my favorites – I never feel like she’s talking down to the audience.

    Off topic – I made your onion soup and it was fantastic. I’m glad that you added that it could take hours for the onions to turn amber or I would have thought I was doing something wrong. Great soup. Thank you.

  • Susan

    I like Ina, too. My only thing with her baking recipes is the use of extra large eggs in everything. I don’t buy them as a rule and, frankly, just use large eggs to no disasterous effect. (Many nearly identical recipes call for large eggs) Still, I wonder why she chose them over the more common large egg if her recipes are supposed to be fairly easy to make from your pantry. Sorry for the rant, but it always griped me that she (practically the only cheff) uses those darn XL eggs in all her recipes!
    When I make soups that call for spinach, I put the spinach in the bowl and let the soup wilt it. It’s plenty tender to allow for that method. That way there’s none left in the pot to blacken and get tough in the leftovers,

    • ATN654

      I think it’s a New England thing because the main eggs in the supermarkets (in Connecticut at least) were always extra large eggs. Until I moved to California, I had the deuce of a time finding large eggs for recipes that specifically called for large eggs. It’s not much of a difference in weight and you couldn’t tell the difference even with baked goods.

  • Kelly M

    Will there be a podcast of your interview we can listen to? She’s one of my favorites.

  • Gina

    Always interested in a great minestrone soup. Even Kansans love your blog.

  • Janet

    I’m making this for dinner tonight. And, I want to say that soups like this are the biggest gun in my own personal arsenal to control my weight. A big pot of a vegetable-heavy soup makes a great Sunday night dinner with crusty bread and a simple salad. And then I eat on the remainder all week for lunch. While the soup is cooking, I sometimes make a hearty grain salad and that is a great compliment to the soup in those lunches. Real food that is just naturally delicious and satisfying.

  • Tessa Foley

    Hi Michael,

    I had the pleasure of seeing you on stage with Ina last week and it was truly the highlight of my winter. I’ve been a huge Ina fan since the debut of her first book, which happened to be the first year I was married. She had truly been the biggest inspiration {aside from my Mum} when it comes to my cooking. She’s like my Julia Child. As a fellow blogger, I was curious to hear her thoughts on food blogs and how/if they inspire her and her recipes. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in line fast enough! I didn’t realize at the time you were a blogger as well. It would have been interesting to hear her perspective. I just did a post recapping the event and thought I’d share it with you:
    Again, it was truly a pleasure to hear her stories and you did an excellent job with the interview. My only regret is not getting to meet her in person!

    Tessa {from Mariemont, Ohio}
    ps. this minestrone soup is one of my favorite recipes from her latest book! i started a hashtag on instagram: #barefootbookclub, its caught on and lots of people are posting their pics and notes on her recipes!

    • Michael Ruhlman

      that’s nice post, thanks for telling me about it and delighted you liked the show!

  • kathy

    I`ve made this soup twice…. I“ve just thrown somne cannellini beans to simmer away as I write this. I was wondering what to make for dinner tonight. This soup is perfect for those times when the fridge is full of a little bit of this…and a little bit of that – just before a trip to the market. I`ve always hated minestrone primarily because of the soggy overcooked pasta the next day. But since cooking the pasta seperate and adding it to the pot just prior to reheating before serving…`s always perfect. I have no panceta today just half a pound of regular bacon and I found a pkg of 400 g of stir fry beef in the freezer or maybe the leftover ham shank from last night….. Half a bag of tubeti pasta, a handful of cubed squash, about 2 handfuls of spinach, two or three carrots some zuccini. A can of italian tomatoes and some broth. This soup will be perfect thanks to your post, for reminding me, this is the perfect solution to cleaning out the fridge.

  • Mike

    I do catch the Barefoot Contessa sometimes depending on what the recipe she’s making is. I was really interested in what you shared on her background from where she came from to where she’s at today. I like those kind of stories.

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