Giada De Laurentiis may be culinary television's fastest-rising star, but her cooking chops run deep, all the way back to her grandfather's pasta factory in Naples.
And for De Laurentiis, mother to 2-year-old Jade and host of the Food Network's Giada at Home, food and family are as natural a pair as salt and pepper. Or, as she tells me, parmesan and garlic, the flavor combo behind one of the vinaigrettes in her new line of cookware and food products for Target, which she was in Chicago promoting on Friday in Tribune Plaza.
Family is at the heart of her new collection and her most recent book, Giada at Home, and was on her mind when we sat down to chat.
Kids love pizza and pasta but there's a lot more to Italian food, right? Tell me a little about your approach to Italian cooking and why it works for kids.
Italian food is delicious, and most kids like cheese and meat and pasta, and there are about a million different dishes you can make with those three things. But the meal is about more than the food. I really think sitting down at least two or three times a week as a family is a tradition every family should start. We live such busy lives and so do our kids. They're on the go for 10 or 12 hours a day. There has to be a reconnection time, and that's the Italian tradition I love.
Your latest book seems to feed off that, with pictures of you cooking with Jade and your husband, Todd, and, of course, the title, Giada at Home.
It's definitely a book about family. It was really fun to do and I hope it's a message that sticks with people. Families are so busy that it's hard to find time to be together, but it's so important. These are the people that keep us going, without them life would be boring and sad. It's so important to take a moment to be together, and if that moment involves great food, even better.
And when it comes to the recipes, I wanted to take my Italian heritage but give it my own spin and bring in our California lifestyle. So you'll see lots of lemon and fresh herbs for flavor, and a whole chapter for brunch, which I love.
Kids can be picky eaters. Is it hard as a chef to come up with family-friendly recipes and still feel like you're bringing your A-game to the kitchen?
When was a child, my parents cooked a meal for dinner we'd all sit down and enjoy the meal together. My sister was the picky eater, and the rule was that if she didn't want to eat that dinner, that was fine, but there wasn't another meal coming. I think sometimes moms drive themselves crazy trying to make too many meals to make everybody happy.
Bring kids into the process. Let them help you decide what to make, or involve them in the shopping at the grocery store. We do it on Sundays with Jade. We'll pick apples. She points at the ones she likes and we'll count them, I'll ask her what color they are. Then when we cook, she remembers. She says, "Mommy, that's the broccoli we bought at the grocery store." That way they're kind of invested in the meal, and they learn about what they're putting in their bodies.
Wait, you shop with a 2-year-old? Voluntarily?
I do. And I only bribe her a little. I tell her she can pick one thing she wants for the trip. If we go by the bakery section first, I'm in trouble, because she loves the cookies with the sprinkles on them. But she also loves little champagne grapes and cherries. And sometimes what she decides she wants is lambchops.
Is Jade old enough to eat what you make? Your dishes aren't exactly rice puffs and pureed squash.
She's been old enough to eat what I make since the day she started eating. You have to go in thinking kids eat the same things we eat. If you do that, it becomes a lot easier. Kids love pasta they love chicken and meat. they may not like vegetables, but there are always fun creative ways to sneak them in.
Well, most kids like meatballs, so I make very small meatballs and i grate vegetables or put them in a food processor and then add them into the meatball. The key is to make them really small so kids can just pop them in their mouths.
What's Jade's favorite thing that you make?
Lamb chops. It's kind of strange. My husband is a Midwesterner, so he loves his red meat, and I think she came out craving meat. She also loves pastina, which is a short cut pasta with peas and carrots.
But, really, I find I can get her to eat anything as long as it has parmesan cheese on it. Parmesan cheese is my savior. I get a big block of it and we shave it. Jade loves to stick her fingers in it and she'll take a sprinkle for her food, and then a sprinkle for her mouth.
As you know with a 2-year-old, parenting doesn't leave a lot of time for gourmet meals. What are some ways you've found cut down on prep time without sacrificing flavor or healthiness?
Stocking the pantry is the best way to do that. Once a month, go and stock it up with ingredients you know kids will like. Pasta and sauce is such an easy meal, but be creative. Try whole wheat pasta or quinoa pasta, not just semolina flour pasta, and get as many different shapes as you can. At Target, we have three jarred tomato sauces (tomato basil, creamy tomato and marinara), and they go great with pasta or with chicken fingers, to dip in instead of ketchup. The same with vinaigrettes. Try them for dipping or for marinating chicken, or toss over vegetables. My favorite is the parmesan garlic vinaigrette. There's the parmesan again - it's like my little magic trick.
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