There are not many people I would trade places with, but I’d give serious consideration to switching skins with Ina Garten. I am quite sure everything in World Ina is not perfect, but from casual observation watching her Food Network show, I cannot detect any flaws in her well-ordered life as she hops from her chic Hamptons home to her Paris apartment to her delux rental in Napa Valley. Making beautiful food all along the way.
I want to live in her house. I am quite sure the draw pulls on her custom-made blinds have not been whacked in half by a bored 8-year-old child or that her beautiful flawless carpet has never suffered the indignities of simultaneous deposits of cat hurl and indiscriminate feline peeing. All the pots in her kitchen match. She serves her husband, Jeffrey, flawless restrained food transported to the outdoor eating area on a giant wicker tray. I serve my husband, Mark, earnestly but sometimes completely flawed food out of a Tupperware container. I know Ina wouldn’t approve. I am ashamed.
I want to jet off to her Paris apartment, from which Ina makes forays into the fabulous Paris food shops. She picks out perfect cheeses and magnificent breads and vibrant vegetables from the farmer’s market. I could do that with a slightly more generous budget. As it is, I am foraging through Aldi’s and Costco and eagerly seek out “buy one, get one free” deals at my beloved Publix.
Right now, Ina is in California. Napa Valley, to be specific. She is occupying a stately rental home with an herb garden. She is making whipped feta and cherry tomato crostini and then adjourning to the patio where a local mixologist is teaching Jeffrey how to make a basil gimlet. My herbs are in a pot so the ground hog that lives under the deck won’t eat them and my cocktail of choice resides in a cardboard box in the refrigerator.
I have learned many things from Ina. I’ve learned that store-bought is OK, if it’s really good store-bought. I’ve learned that you don’t have to serve four things for a meal. She’ll make a piece of fish and a side of broccoli and call it a day. I’ve learned that you can basically wear the same thing (owning multiple copies, of course) every day. For her, it’s a black over-sized shirt and black pants. For me, it’s overalls. Doesn’t that speak volumes? But she doesn’t care and I don’t either.
So here’s her mushroom and leek bread pudding. It is sensational. She says to serve it hot, but I can tell you with certitude that it can be consumed cold out of the refrigerator with no regret.
Ina Garten’s mushroom and leek bread pudding
6 cups (1/2-inch-diced) bread cubes from a rustic country loaf, crusts removed
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, small-diced
4 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts (4 leeks)
1 1/2 pounds cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and 1/4-inch-sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup medium or dry sherry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (6 ounces), divided
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes, until starting to brown. Stir in the leeks and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the leeks are tender. Stir in the mushrooms, tarragon, sherry, 1 tablespoon salt and 11/2 teaspoons pepper and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, chicken stock and 1 cup of the Gruyere. Add the bread cubes and mushroom mixture, stirring well to combine. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid. Stir well and pour into a 2 1/2-to-3-quart gratin dish (13 x 9 x 2 inches). Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyere and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is browned and the custard is set. Serve hot.