Maybe you’ve watched her deal out some tough love on Food Network’s Chopped, cheered her on as she helps take down Bobby Flay in Beat Bobby Flay or dined on an exquisite meal at her restaurant, Butter, in New York. Either way, when you hear the name Alex Guarnaschelli, one thing comes to mind: outstanding food.
Guarnaschelli is a New York-based chef and television personality starring in shows like Iron Chef America, All Star Family Cook-off, Guy’s Grocery Games, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Supermarket Stakeout and more. She is also the mom to her 12-year old daughter ava and also just happens to be the chair of the Museum of Food and Drink’s Culinary Council. We were lucky enough to chat with this culinary genius and not only did she share her favorite Ina Garten recipe with us, but she let us take a look inside her fridge too.
SheKnows: Tell us a little bit about your fridge and freezer.
Alex Guarnaschelli: My freezer is Jammed packed right now and I’m not going to lie about it. I always have bacon in my freezer. We might have a week where we cook bacon five days in a row and you have to be prepared for that. We also always have pork link sausages, one frozen pizza, frozen vegetables like frozen peas — which just defrosted into a salad or turned into a soup is very versatile. And ice-cream of course. There’s a whole ice-cream section in my freezer. And chocolate — I keep all my chocolate frozen.
SK: What’s the strangest ingredient we would find in your cabinets or pantry?
AG: Different types of pickled fish. This isn’t going to have a big audience. Let’s just say people are not running into the pantry to grab my pickled fish. I’ll put them on crackers or make little sandwiches with mild bread and slices of cucumber because they’re really flavorful but let me tell you I’m alone on that!
SK: What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie flavor?
AG: I love Samoas. I love the nutty and caramel combo. It’s basically a candy bar packed in a cookie.
SK: What does a typical breakfast look like for you?
AG: We often have yogurt or smoothies but I recently burned out on the smoothie trail and have really been digging into the Hood Cottage Cheese with Blueberry — it’s so fruity and reminds me of yogurt but it’s not as sweet, has more texture and blueberries are one of my all-time flavor fruit. So this blueberry cottage cheese is a real quick way to not have to go to the stove at all which I like.
SK: What was your most memorable meal?
AG: I lived in France for many years. I was working in a very fancy restaurant in Paris and occasionally would take economy road trips to eat food in different parts of France. I wandered into a small bistro with communal tables and stools. The restaurant had no phone, took no reservations and was somehow packed to the gills every day. The husband made lunch and dinner and the wife took orders and served the food. Alain Ducasse was there for lunch that day too. I sat down and watched as the husband lifted a pot full of homemade noodles and tossed it with a vibrant green pesto. The pasta was so hot that there were little basil-filled waves of air that made their way around the tiny room. The wife placed a plate of this pasta in front of me and I took one bite. It brought tears to my eyes because the flavor was so delicious. It was one of the plates of food that made me want to become a chef. It was also, undoubtedly, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life.
SK: Do you have any controversial food opinions (for example: avocados are trash, cilantro tastes like soap)?
AG: Controversial opinion number one: a cheeseburger is the best sandwich anybody could ever make or eat. Controversial opinion number two: a hotdog is the second-best sandwich and also, a hotdog is a sandwich! Third, cottage cheese is not just a 1970’s diet breakfast food anymore – it’s uniquely delicious. It offers amazing protein and texture in Italian-American classics like lasagna and baked ziti, it can make a great bread without needing any yeast, it’s wonderful baked with eggs as a twist on the usual repertoire of brunch dishes. It adds nutrition, great food chemistry and tastes savory or sweet depending on what you need it to be!
SK: What’s the one ingredient you hate to work with or encounter in someone else’s dish?
AG: I can’t handle risotto. I’ve cooked it in too many restaurants! Mussels are another rocky road for me. Can’t really stand the smell of them cooking.
SK: What is your one favorite appliance in the kitchen?
AG: I could not live without my industrial-strength blender. I know it’s the go-to for smoothies but to me, it’s so much more. I make soups, purées. I even make no-knead bread dough in the blender! It has a place on my counter and that says something because the counter is prime real estate in my kitchen…
SK: What’s your go-to meal when you only have twenty minutes to cook?
AG: I always have cooked lentils or canned beans on hand. The lentils can be turned into a hearty soup with the addition of some cooked chopped vegetables and stock (and even crumbled leftover bacon?). The beans, a great source of protein, can become a purée to go under some roasted vegetables, a bean soup, salad or a spread to make sandwiches with cold cuts from the fridge. I also love to boil water, cook pasta and make a sauce at the same time from whatever is in the fridge. When the pasta is cooked, so is the sauce. One pan, one pot and dinner is ready!
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This is the MINESTRONE I made on #thekitchen this past Saturday. Use a mix of frozen vegetables. Just fully defrost & fully drain the frozen ingredients! Serves: 6-8 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 bag (7-8 ounces) frozen pearl onions, defrosted 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced 1 large Idaho potato, skin on, diced ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes Kosher salt 1 can (28 ounces) whole, peeled tomatoes 1 (15 ounces) can cooked great Northern or cannelloni beans, drained 1/2 bag corn (5-6 ounces) defrosted 1/2 bag (5-6 ounces) frozen peas, defrosted 2 large stalks celery, peeled, thinly sliced ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese 1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onions, garlic, potato & red pepper flakes with a generous pinch salt. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, over medium heat until the vegetables become tender, 3-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes & 2 cups water & continue cooking, 15-18 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down & mellow out. 2. Add the cooked beans, corn & green peas. Simmer for 1-2 minutes only to make it hot again. Shut off the heat. Stir in the celery & Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning. Basil pesto and garlic bread on the side.
SK: What’s the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
AG: There are these 2-inch baby eels that are a delicacy in Spain. They are harvested in the evening, kept alive in freshwater and quickly sautéed, live, in garlic and oil. Not a Chopped basket ingredient but something I ate years ago in Spain. Interesting. Fresh. Tasty. Also: strange.
SK: Would you eat it again?
AG: I don’t need to eat the eels again? I’m grateful for the experience. I found the texture unique and the flavor of the garlic and oil brought the eels to life. It’s also a dish I only need to eat once.
SK: You work with Bobby Flay a lot. Have you ever tried one of his dishes that you thought was actually kind of terrible?
SK: Do you have a favorite Ina Garten recipe?
AG: I have so many Ina classics. I just want to go over to her house with that roast chicken, those tulips, her enormous bottle of vanilla extract and Jeffrey and never leave! It’s a transporting experience. One of my absolute favorite recipes of hers is The Espresso Icebox Cake. You can also make a variation with Meyer Lemon that is tasty too. So simple: layered mocha whipped cream and chocolate cookies. Let it sit in the fridge, get really chilled up and slightly boozy. The flavors are so simple and it’s a great make-ahead dessert.
SK: We’re living in really weird times and people are changing their eating and cooking habits at home. Has the pandemic changed your cooking habits at all?
AG: Yes it has. Grocery shopping is different now. I am definitely more organized if I make that trip to the store. I can’t just shop for recreation or fun anymore. I have also reframed my pantry and staples list. I am much more interested in a pantry and fridge that offer varied sources of protein. This rethink leaves me in a better position to create hearty meals with what’s on hand. Lentils, chickpeas, beans and various dairy products like eggs and cottage cheese are ingredients I depend on with greater frequency.
SK: Do you do any gardening during the warmer months? If so, what are your favorite things to plant?
AG: I do garden a little but I never promised you I have a green thumb!! Every spring I plant a few types of tomatoes, a few fresh chilies and herbs. I never plant mint because it takes over the whole garden. Mint is the bully of the herb world. I love flowers but don’t have a flower garden. Last spring, we planted some beets and cucumbers that were tasty. This year we’re focusing on heirloom tomatoes. The quest for the perfect tomato begins!
SK: Do you have any gardening hacks or tips to share with us black thumbs?
AG: Ha! I’m not a verde we but here’s what I have learned about the craft so far: only plant a few things and plant items you want to eat. We have fun with a few cherry tomato plants. So exciting to eat a tomato salad from your own garden. Also great to make tomato jam and sauce. Skip the hard stuff like corn and melons. Keep it simple.