The Myth Chef Laura Vitale Wants You to Stop Believing About Italian Food
Italian-American chef Laura Vitale is a rising superstar in the culinary world. The host of her own YouTube show, Laura in the Kitchen, and now host of the Cooking Channel's Simply Laura, this cook is quickly becoming known for her Italian twists on American classics. She focuses on seasonal and simple foods but brings them to life with lots of fresh ingredients and spices.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Vitale about all things food, and she even let us take a look inside her fridge.
SheKnows: Tell us a little bit about what’s in your fridge.
Laura Vitale: I always like to keep things I know I can pull together in no time at all. Things like greens that I always wash and prep when I bring them home from the store, whether that’s spinach, kale, broccoli rabe, dandelion greens, whatever I can get my hands on. I wash them first, spin them in the salad spinner and keep them in food storage bags with a paper towel to absorb extra moisture and avoid them going bad too quickly. This way, I can make salads and other dishes without this added prep.
You’ll never find my fridge without homemade marinara sauce. I keep plain marinara sauce, and that way I can doctor it up in a lot of different ways with cooked bacon, caramelized onions, anchovy paste. This gives me the flexibility to create a quick meal.
We’re also a big fans of anything pickled or marinated. I have artichokes, olives, capers, marinated cauliflower, baby carrots. They are perfect to snack on, add to salads or even soups and stews to add some different flavor.
Overall, I like to keep things that I can cook quickly, make quickly and add flavors to other things I can cook quickly. That’s the phase of life my husband and I are in now. We’re really busy with a 1-1/2-year-old, so everything I have in the fridge right now can be made in 30 minutes or less, often in one pan.
SK: What about your freezer?
LV: The freezer is my best friend. I keep a lot of things in the freezer that help me throughout weeknight cooking, and even weekends. I have a variety of specialty meats from the local butcher that I like to stock up on. Then I have things that help me if I’m really busy during the week, like meatballs and perogies that I’ve already made. I also keep a few boxes of delicious pizza that I can throw into the oven or on the grill for easy weeknight cooking. Right now, our favorite is Dr. Oetker Virtuoso pizza and the flavor we just love is the pepperoni pesto. So I just have one of those. On a busy weeknight, I can throw it into the oven, pair it with an easy salad with my prewashed greens, and I have a meal in 20 minutes.
I also like to keep fish in the freezer, picking up the individually wrapped fishes at the local supermarket. I keep some salmon and cod. I can take them out. They thaw really quickly, and I can sauté them with an Asian marinade or some lemon pepper and butter — it makes a really easy, quick dish.
I really tailor everything in my freezer, fridge and pantry with the phase of life we’re in. Right now, that’s things we can create into a meal at a moment’s notice.
SK: Are there any items you always make sure to keep in stock?
LV: I always make sure I have my marinara sauce in my fridge. In the freezer, it’s some sort of protein like cooked beans that I’ve already soaked, and I always have lots of bread in the freezer because I can thaw it out quickly, warm it in the oven and serve it with soup, pasta, chicken — whenever you need a little carb.
For my daughter, Mia, I always keep a bag of frozen potato wedges because she really loves those. She’s a little bit of a picky eater right now and know if I roast some for her with a little bit of protein, she’s content.
SK: What’s your go-to healthy snack?
LV: I’m really not the biggest snacker because I like to eat three really good meals a day. If I do, we always have fruit that I wash immediately as I get it from the store so you can grab and go and roasted nuts without any sugar or anything on them. I like to put them on top of Greek yogurt and then drizzle some really good local New Jersey all-natural honey on top.
SK: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite weeknight meals?
LV: One of my favorites that I made two nights ago and making again tonight is a Parmesan-crusted pork chop with an avocado and arugula salad and roasted sweet potatoes seasoned with paprika, chili powder and cumin. It’s so good and so easy.
We love pork chops even more than chicken breasts. I know it sounds crazy, but we do. They are flavorful, juicy and a quarter of the price of chicken breasts.
We also really like salmon with a dill sauce with some cauliflower rice and sautéed spinach. Those are our two go-to that we can’t get enough of.
SK: What would you consider the ultimate comfort food?
LV: It would have to be a pasta with a red meat sauce. We make sugo, which is a slow-cooked sauce with lots of red wine and lots of different kinds of meat. We do meatballs and ribs that I cook for 5 to 6 hours. Then I take the sauce and make an eggplant Parmesan and baked ziti, and that’s my ultimate comfort food.
Pair it with some broccoli rabe on the side with crunchy, fresh Italian bread with a good olive oil — that is what is home for me. That’s comfort food.
SK: What’s one of your favorite dishes from your hometown of Naples, Italy?
LV: That’s really hard to choose. Naples is really known for their seafood. I probably eat more seafood there in two weeks than the rest of the year. One dish I just absolutely love is this really simple grilled seafood salad. They take octopus, squid, mussels, clams and shrimp and marinate everything together with celery and lemon and a little bit of garlic and good olive oil and parsley. It’s heaven on a plate.
Every time I see it, I have to have it. It’s so fresh and light and vibrant — it’s really my favorite.
SK: What’s a common misconception about Italian food that really drives you nuts?
LV: Probably that everything is loaded with cheese and carbs, which is not at all the truth. I was in Tuscany in the spring and had the most beautiful vegetable dishes, like eggplant and cabbage. Hardly any pasta at all, just lots of different vegetables and meats. I was there for five days and didn’t eat pasta once.
On the Amalfi Coast, there is an abundance of fresh, locally caught seafood, and that’s what most diets are made of. Lots of legumes, chickpeas and lentils.
Everyone always says Italian food is nothing more than chicken Parmesan and baked ziti, and that is not at all the truth.
SK: Any foods you absolutely can’t stand?
LV: I don’t like anything unicorn themed. The unicorn cookies and drinks I’m not a fan of. I like real food, home-cooked, and try to stay away from that.
I don’t like any canned Parmesan cheese — it’s not the real thing — or any pre-crumbled cheese like feta or blue cheese. I want a chunk of feta or chunk of blue cheese and then crumble it myself. I think when you buy it pre-crumbled, it tastes nothing like the real thing. It’s dry, oversalted, just sitting in a container for who knows how long.
SK: What’s the strangest food you have ever eaten?
LV: In Italy, we have these stands, like a carnival stand, all over that sell really strange cuts of meats that are preserved, like cow tongue. It’s strange, but I grew up eating it with a lot of salt and a lot of lemon. My husband cannot stand it, but I love it. Whenever my brother and I are in Italy, we always stop and indulge because my husband will not let us when he’s around.
SK: Would you eat it again?
LV: Yes! I eat it every time I visit home.