Ina Garten’s 14 Favorite Go-To Foods
Food Network star Ina Garten is a former government worker turned unlikely success story. Popularly known as the Barefoot Contessa, she’s paved the way for many hopeful home chefs to follow in her culinary footsteps. Garten’s love for food is only matched by her entrepreneurial spirit — if her Barefoot Contessa specialty shop represented a risk, the brand it grew to become is the reward. Whether sharing the unexpected food she makes for extra special dinners or interviewing and cooking with celebrities on her show "Be My Guest," food always plays a central role.
One of the perks of living a life filled with food is that you get the opportunity to try a wide variety of flavors. A special chocolate shop that has one-of-a-kind truffles, or handmade pasta from a recipe passed down through generations — you know, hidden gems that food lovers obsess over. Who gets tired of trying something new and tasty? That’s why we decided to put together a list of some of Garten’s favorite go-to foods. Some are familiar comfort food staples, while others are unique places she’s discovered along her culinary travels. Whether you prefer modest classics or lean towards more fanciful flavors, pull out your "Must Try" list because one of Garten’s favorite foods might just become one of yours.
Omelet and champagne
As the story has it, one visit to Paris was all it took to convince Garten to purchase a permanent residence there. Considered one of the world’s culinary capitals, it makes perfect sense that the celebrity chef was attracted to stay. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a breathtakingly beautiful city that’s rich with history. Garten now splits her time between America and France, enjoying the best of both cuisines.
In the City of Light, there are thousands of restaurants that keep the bustling food scene thriving, but only one place that Garten calls her absolute favorite: Café de Flore. The cafe serves her favorite Parisian pairing, an omelet and champagne; it’s a simple French meal Garten can’t miss. Operating since 1887, the Parisian landmark is not only known for its food but also for attracting notable historical figures like writer James Baldwin and philosopher Albert Camus. What better pairing for people-watching than a delicious omelet, a glass of champagne, and rich history?
PB&J with lightly toasted bread
Sometimes we don’t have the patience for preheating, and that’s why, despite her cooking prowess, even Garten loves easy-to-make comfort foods. One of her favorite go-to comfort foods is a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There are few pairings more perfect, which is why it’s been a childhood staple for generations. Garten has a simple tip that takes peanut butter and jelly sammies to the next level: toasted bread.
This simple tip adds a nice toasted touch, giving the bread a slight crunch while elevating your everyday PB&J sandwich. During the pandemic, Garten shared this tasty go-to with her Instagram followers as a quick and easy alternative to complex meal planning. Not only is peanut butter a healthy source of protein and unsaturated fat, but it’s also a reliably delicious snack when you’re pressed for time, or would rather rest than make a recipe. Garten makes her special PB&J sandwich using Pepperidge Farm white bread, creamy Skippy peanut butter, and Eli Zabar’s raspberry preserves.
Whether a local home cook legend or world-renowned chef, puns aside, there’s one fast food spot everyone loves to run in and out of: In-N-Out Burger. For nearly 80 years it’s been considered one of America’s best burger chains. The beef patties are freshly made and layered with traditional ingredients like lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, and a Thousand Island-like dressing. And don’t get us started on the fries; wars have been fought over where they rank on "best" lists. Although the "best fries" debate is ongoing, one thing’s for sure, In-N-Out is Ina Garten’s favorite go-to.
Whenever she’s in California visiting or on a book tour, swinging by the local In-N-Out is a must. To give you an idea of how much Garten enjoys their burgers, it’s the only fast food chain she’ll eat. Another fun fact behind her love for In-N-Out has to do with her culinary hero Julia Child, who also loved eating there. If Julia Child loves it, count us in. While Garten sticks to the classic burger and fries, you also have the option of secret menu items you probably never heard of.
Pasta vecchia bettola
Quick, easy, affordable, delicious, and versatile, pasta checks all the culinary boxes. It’s one of those dishes that every great chef keeps in their arsenal. Using only a few ingredients, you can whip up restaurant-quality pasta in an instant. That said, even simple recipes can sometimes feel like a big responsibility. When Garten doesn’t have the energy to brave the rigors of cooking at home, she goes to a New York restaurant that serves one of her top pasta dishes.
Nick and Toni’s is an Italian eatery located in East Hampton that makes a mean pasta vecchia bettola. It’s Garten’s favorite go-to that she’s enjoyed countless times. The penne pasta is made by Nick and Toni’s head chef, Joe Realmuto, who has been a repeat guest on her "Barefoot Contessa" show. We wouldn’t be surprised if this tasty pasta had something to do with that. It’s made using a type of creamy vodka sauce and includes Spanish onion and tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper, oregano, salt, and pepper. For a final flavorful touch, it’s sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and oregano.
Lemon capellini with caviar
Some of the best recipes are created out of necessity. The same can be said about Garten’s favorite go-to citrusy pasta, lemon capellini with caviar. While she likes to cook it for New Year’s, the recipe has only two steps, making it great for any occasion. Garten stumbled upon it one night after returning home with her husband. It was nearly midnight, and she wanted a quick late-night dinner. That’s when she put her culinary thinking cap on and created this pasta recipe, which is now considered one of her most popular.
Garten’s lemon capellini with caviar is made with quick-cooking thin capellini pasta, loads of butter, grated lemon zest, and an additional zing of lemon juice, all before being topped with 150 grams of quality black caviar. While black caviar is clearly out of the price range for most people, if you’re blessed with shiny vaults, the recipe itself is a great night-time treat. Thankfully, you don’t have to break the bank to try it out — affordable options like black tobiko, lumpfish caviar, or chopped black olives are also great substitutes.
Creamy Parmesan polenta
Once you take a trip down the pasta rabbit hole, you’re bound to hop across an endless array of recipes. There’s simply no shortage of pasta-bilities. In her book "Cooking for Jeffrey," Garten reveals that creamy Parmesan polenta is one of her favorite go-to comfort food recipes. She says it’s great during colder months, especially when served alongside rich and flavorful ratatouille or delicious meatballs. Based on the ingredients, it sure sounds like a satisfying way to keep warm and stay fed.
Garten’s creamy Parmesan polenta is hearty and full-bodied, requiring three different types of dairy: freshly grated Parmesan, silky crème fraîche, and unsalted butter. It’s an easy recipe that home cooks of all levels can easily make; it only takes 10 minutes to prepare and about 25 minutes to cook. Next time it starts feeling chilly outside, give yourself an extra bit of cushion by trying out this warming dish.
Italian wedding soup
When you have a case of the shivers, a hot and hearty bowl of soup is the perfect cozy remedy. Deliciously dynamic and affordably appetizing, soups can be made using only a few ingredients. That’s what makes them one of the best food options for meal planning, as leftovers can be enjoyed for several days. Living in the coastal town of East Hampton, Garten’s no stranger to whipping up something warm and tasty for frigid temperatures. At the top of her list of favorites, her go-to comfort soup for chilly winter nights is Italian wedding soup.
It’s made from chicken stock and is composed of round-shaped acini de pepe pasta, rich Parmesan cheese, eggs, juicy meatballs, and leafy greens. Garten puts a unique spin on the traditional recipe by substituting the beef and pork meatballs with ground chicken and chicken sausage blend meatballs. The protein choice is complementary to the chicken stock flavor; Garten roasts the meatballs before adding them to the soup, adding an extra kick of savoriness. Another way she ups the ante is by making the chicken stock completely from scratch. Her Barefoot Contessa recipe requires three roasted chickens and a four-hour cook time.
Three courses (rack of lamb, orzo with roasted vegetables, and French apple tart)
Having been a prominent food show host for over two decades, Garten’s head is no doubt brimming over with crave-worthy recipes. When someone can access such a wealth of culinary knowledge, you’d think it’d be challenging to narrow recipes down to your signatures. That said, when asked what she considers her signature dish, Garten had no problem choosing a three-course meal as one of her favorite go-to dinnertime recipes.
The sprawling meal starts with a mouthwatering rack of lamb before moving to orzo with roasted vegetables and then a French apple tart for the finale. Another signature she loves to pair with a French apple tart is roasted chicken. It’s stuffed with rosemary, oranges, and garlic, before being placed atop a bed of chopped onions. This combination of ingredients adds notes of citrusy aromatics to the savory roast. Okay, we’re officially salivating over here, because both Garten go-tos sound like tasty options for your next dinner party.
With nearly 100 dessert recipes, the Barefoot Contessa sure must have a sweet tooth. To quell her sugar pangs, Garten loves the Seattle-based artisan confection brand Fran’s Chocolates. From bars and peanut butter cups to truffles and chocolate-covered fruit, each confection is handcrafted for a premium experience. Although their tasty treats are made for any occasion, Garten especially loves giving them as gifts.
She suggests bringing a box of Fran’s caramels to dinner parties as a gift for the host. Dinner parties often have limited table space for additional dishes, so rather than potentially adding to the clutter of cooked food, chocolates are great gifts to show gratitude while making their hosting duties a bit easier. For holiday gifts in particular, Garten says that Fran’s Chocolates Duos, which contain a mix of salted caramels and chocolate truffles, are one of her favorites. Whichever chocolatey option you choose, there’s a good chance the host will appreciate the sweet gesture.
Vanilla ice cream
Just as Garten likes a no-frills approach to home cooking, she also likes her ice cream free of bells and whistles. That said, it makes sense that her favorite ice cream is traditional vanilla flavor. Despite its plainness, it’s an American classic that frequently outranks most ice creams on the block. Garten in particular seems to have an unshakeable love — Häagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, and Ciao Bella are her go-to vanilla ice cream-making brands.
While vanilla is often considered boring, its plainness also makes it one of the best ice cream options. It can be enjoyed as is or serve as the perfect creamy canvas for any combination of ingredients. Garten recommends making it from scratch when time permits. Besides prep, which is quick itself, the only other thing you’ll need is patience, as homemade ice cream requires hours of freezing. You can stick to vanilla, or make any homemade ice cream flavor of your choice. If you prefer leaving the ice cream-making up to the brands, have a bit of fun by taste-testing each option at your local grocery store.
French apple tart
Garten has no hang-ups about selecting her all-time favorite dessert recipe that sits above the rest: the French apple tart. Sweet, bitter, and buttery, it’s a downright delectable dessert that takes some serious skill to pull off. While Garten has her own tried and true recipe that she uses in the aforementioned three-course meal, she also thinks the Trader Joe’s apple tart is absolutely delicious. It’s an easy alternative to the hour it takes attempting to successfully make one from scratch. If you’ve got your sleeves rolled up, ready to take any recipe challenge head-on, by all means, don’t let us stop you.
Along with Granny Smith apples, which are considered the best apples for baking, Garten adds apricot jam and rum to the mix. The peachy touch of apricot enhances the jam’s fruity notes, and the rum gives a syrupy kick. With a saccharine selection of ingredients, there’s no wonder why French apple is Garten’s favorite tart.
Carissa’s The Bakery
A freshly baked good is never a bad thing. Is it the alluring smell that permeates throughout the bakery, escaping to invite pastry lovers inside for a treat? Or the first chewy bite that disappears before you know it, leaving your fingertips with sugary crumbs? However you like to enjoy your pastries, nothing beats a quality bakery. As a staple of the Hampton community, Garten often promotes local establishments, and one of her favorite bakeries is only a hop, skip, and jump away.
In fact, there’s a unique quality that makes her favorite Hamptons bakery special. When Garten visits Carissa’s The Bakery, she’s reminded of when she ran the Barefoot Contessa specialty shop. Owned by Carissa Waechter and Lori Chemla, Carissa’s The Bakery sells specialty goods, and has an energy that reminds Garten of home. It’s like a proverbial candy shop for quality artisan products. With a wide selection of baked goods, Garten gets to enjoy her locally-sourced fix, along with a warm feeling of nostalgia.
La Grande Épicerie
Garten’s love for specialty foods is well-documented. Without having prior experience in the food industry, she quit her government job and started The Barefoot Contessa. It’s that love for artisan products that might explain her decision to purchase a home in Paris, where she’s split her time since 2007. It’s there where Garten discovered the specialty food store she thinks is the best in the world: a more than 30,000-square-foot hall of culinary wonders called La Grande Épicerie.
The food hall is an expansive demonstration in French flair, where visitors can experience a wide array of food options like fresh baked goods, decadent desserts, savory cured meats, wine, and more. It literally takes up an entire city block! For Garten, the best part is that it’s only walking distance from where she lives. Whichever missing ingredient a recipe calls for, according to her, La Grande Épicerie has every food imaginable.
Coffee and microwaved oatmeal
Oatmeal is probably the most surprising go-to food that Garten considers her favorite. You also might be surprised to learn that she prefers using a microwave to make oatmeal instead of a stovetop and that Garten has had it for breakfast every day for 10 years along with a cup of coffee. Honestly, there are worse traditions than a healthy and simple breakfast to start your day.
Garten’s oatmeal of choice is McCann’s quick-cooking Irish brand. It only takes three minutes to chef up, making your morning stress-free and straightforward. Aside from a fast cook time, oatmeal is nutrient-dense, packing loads of fiber and protein. It is filling without making you feel sluggish. Combine a bowl with freshly brewed coffee, and your day will definitely step off on the right foot. Just take it from Garten — 10 years is proof that oatmeal is one of the best breakfast options around.