Ina Garten has written 11 cookbooks, and I know a lot of people who have every single one. She’s one of the most beloved cookbook authors, television hosts, and food personalities of the past two decades, so it’s hard to avoid falling for her latest collections of recipes.
What exactly is it about Ina? That sparkle in her eye? The way she drops the word fabulous? How much she loves feeding her husband, Jeffrey? Flipping through one of her books, I feel like I’m shaking off a week at the office, driving out to the beach house, and pulling up a seat at the island. It’s Friday night, and my mom is making dinner. It’s roast chicken and mocha cake, of course. She hands me a glass of dry white wine without missing a beat. To me, that’s pure comfort, and it’s impossible to resist.
I have to confess that I didn’t grow up watching Barefoot Contessa. But as a cookbook editor, at my first real job out of college, I had to get familiar — fast. Ina dominates the bestseller lists year after year, leaving publishers scratching their heads. In this editor’s humble opinion, one of her books is not dramatically different than the next. They’re all lovely. The recipes won’t disappoint. They’re French, Italian, and American, by way of New England, so to many people, they feel classic. Ina’s recipes are elegant but easy; they don’t shy away from luxurious ingredients, but they also manage to put everyone at ease. Ina taught herself to cook, using Mastering the Art of French Cooking and other tomes, and maybe that’s the extra touch. Because it’s a rich reading experience, from a home cook who’s with you in the kitchen every step of the way.
But which one is the best, you ask? Maybe you don’t want to get all 11 books? I get it. Here are three Ina Garten cookbooks that stand the test of time.
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (1999)
Ready for a throwback? Ina’s first cookbook came out in 1999, and it was a breakout hit, introducing her signature style of off-the-cuff entertaining. I often suspect an author’s first book is her best, especially with restaurant titles, when she’s showcasing a career’s worth of carefully tested recipes. Before becoming a media darling, Ina was the owner of a specialty food store in the Hamptons for 20 years, and this book draws the most closely from that experience. If you want retro-fabulous soups, salads, and party platters, go for this one. It includes a foreword from her friend Martha Stewart, and gratitude to her mentor Eli Zabar. Plus, there’s plenty of name dropping — don’t run out of the honey-ginger chicken, or Lauren Bacall gets cranky.
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The best recipes: The turkey meatloaf and Parmesan mashed potatoes, both peppery and creamy, have a fan following. Chrissy Teigen says the roasted tomato-basil soup is “the best in all the land.” And the outrageous brownies, which flew out of the store, live up to the name.
Barefoot Contessa Foolproof (2012)
As her Food Network stardom rose, Ina put out bestseller after bestseller, transporting us to Paris, then back home to the Hamptons, followed by a streak of easy and make-ahead collections. In particular, Foolproof was the number-one cookbook in the country the year it came out, selling nearly half a million copies, and it’s still top-rated by fans, on both Amazon (4.7 out of 5 stars) and Goodreads (4.27 out of 5 stars). Why? Ina finds her voice, and she understands what cooks need — not just recipes that can’t fail, but also party menus, game plans, and a cocktail on the side. It’s her most supportive book and an entertaining bible.
The best recipes: The four-hour leg of lamb with white beans is so tender, you can carve it with a spoon. A showstopping filet of beef gets a dollop of decadent mayo, laced with mustard and tarragon. And the lobster mac and cheese elevates the classic, making it a party.
Cooking for Jeffrey (2016)
At a point in her career where the Contessa could do whatever she pleased, she dedicated an entire book to her husband. Indulgent? Maybe. Delightful? Oh, definitely. Again, it was the bestselling cookbook of the year, even though it hit shelves in the fall, and had only been on sale a few months. From a storytelling perspective, this book is the most personal. Fans of the show ate up the anecdotes about how they met, married, and built the store, as well as adorable photos of Ina in her wedding dress, Jeffrey in uniform cutting their wedding cake, and the pair playing doubles tennis. Never fear — the recipes are as comforting as always. Whichever one you choose, Jeffrey is going to love it.
The best recipes: The skillet-roasted lemon chicken is one-pan perfection, crispy and juicy with white wine and citrus. She also finally returned to a few Jewish family favorites, including fork-tender brisket and tzimmes. And the devil’s food cake with mocha buttercream will make someone feel special.
Agree to disagree? Share your favorite Ina Garten cookbook in the comments below! Along with your favorite dog-eared recipe, whether it’s slicked with chicken fat or chocolate.
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