Spend A Weeknight With Giada Right In Montclair!

by Melody Kettle

Photo credit: John LeeGiada DeLaurentiis’ latest, and perhaps most important, cookbook “Weeknights with Giada: Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner” releases today and I’m glad to have been able to read it already.

Before we get into Weeknights, let’s rewind a bit. Giada is best known to non-foodies for her appearances on NBC’s Today show and her shows on Food Network and Cooking Channel. Giada is also the author of five cookbooks : Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes, Giada's Family Dinners, Everyday Pasta, Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites, Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California. Weeknights With Giada is her sixth book. For cynics who may think this may just be a collection of warmed over leftovers from her other book pulled together just to make a sale, sit down, grab a biscotti, and keep quiet. This is her most important book yet, I’ll explain.

Weeknights with Giada is dedicated to “everyone who comes home after a long day and wonders what to cook for dinner.”  Everyone can relate to that experience and all too many times we resort to something frozen, something processed, or take away; with this book we are not only presented with great ideas for dinner, but are inspired to pull together fresh ingredients with the same ease we have come to know from watching her on television.  Coming away from a written recipe with an “I can do that tonight” feeling is something is a unique experience -Giada does it in her latest work, again, and again, and again! Here’s the best part: if you pick up the book today at lunchtime and decide to make something tonight you can do it without anyone knowing you hadn’t planned for days– most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry. A quick drive-by to the grocery can fill in any holes. Giada does make use of market roasted chicken and store bought pizza dough, but keep in mind that those items are indeed fresh. The second best thing, most of the recipes are done in about 20 minutes!

The most exotic ingredient in the entire book is probably mascarpone cheese.  I always have a stash in my fridge, and first discovered it by watching Everyday Italian. Mascarpone is sweet Italian style cream cheese; tasting it side by side with the more common bricks of cream cheese you’ll realize how salty the American style stuff is. It is easily found in the grocery either in the cheese case or in the dairy section  and makes the best cream cheese frosting, ever. I use mascarpone when I am having lox and a smear but that’s my Giada inspired foodie story, let’s get back to “Weeknights With Giada.”

 Each recipe has a little story that goes with it, the author explains her inspiration, influences, or how her family members have come to love these dishes. The personal attention makes everything real, and just adds to the “I can do that for my family” experience. A carrot and yam puree started out as something Giada made for her daughter but has not evolved into a flavorful side to serve with fish. Italian Inspired dishes take center stage in all of De Laurentis’s work but the California influence is everywhere. Bruschetta  and Sandwiches are easy and elegant – how can anyone not fall in love with the idea of Ciabatta with shrimp, tarragon, and arugula or how about grilled cheese with spinach and pancetta. A fig and brie Panini paired with a green salad is an elegant dinner. The great thing about these dishes is they also make great party food.  Chilly spring evenings are ideal for soup – how about creamy sweet potato and rosemary soup? Rustic Vegetable Soup with Polenta uses quick cooking polenta (no one has to know you didn’t spend all day stirring the polenta pot!) The best fusion of California and Italian Food has to be the Tilapia Fish Taco with Arugula.

Breakfast for dinner is always a good thing. The almond pancakes are so good I just had to share them!

Almond Pancakes:

½ cup mascarpone cheese (4 oz)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups pancake mix, Giada suggest Krusteaz

4 oz (1/2 cup) almond paste (not marzipan) cut into 1/4” pieces

1 ½ cups water

In a food process combine the mascarpone cheese, water, sugar, almond extract, vanilla extract, process until smooth. Add pancake mix and pulse until just combined. Add almond paste until just incorporated. Use ¼ cup of the batter for each pancake, cooking about 1 ½ minutes each.  (I made these and found that “just incorporated” - little chunks of almond paste in the finished pancakes were a special treat). Makes about 16 pancakes, serve with maple syrup.

Weeknights with Giada is available at Williams Sonoma (it’s across the entire top shelf at the Valley Road Montclair store) and is also available locally at Watchung Booksellers.  http://www.watchungbooksellers.com/search/apachesolr_search/weeknights%20with%20giada

I might get into trouble here but I foresee writing about and photographing more of the recipes from “Weeknights with Giada” if Giada and Melody Kettle (publisher of Hot From The Kettle) agree.