Romanesque Roots with an American Family: Giada De Laurentiis

Her lineage destined her for culinary aspirations, but education and hard work put her on your television screen, on the covers of books and magazines and, most deliciously, on your dinner plate. Giada De Laurentiis was in Houston April 3 to publicize her new cookbook, Weeknights with Giada and drew huge crowds wanting to get a glimpse of the petite gourmet chef.

Giada was born in Rome into the De Laurentiis family, which combined the two things she excels at -- Italian cooking and appearing on camera. Her grandfather was Dino De Laurentiis, famed Italian film producer. With her Italian heritage and entertainment lineage, Giada was poised for fame. She learned from her extended family how to cook but also formally studied at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. After returning to the United States, she began working in some big-name LA restaurants, like Wolfgang Puck's Spago, before becoming a food stylist.

Her food-styling efforts got her noticed by the Food Network. Although she says she never wanted to follow in the family business of entertainment, she was given her first cooking show, Everyday Italian, and her career has exploded. She went on to host Behind the Bash and Giada's Weekend Getaways. She has appeared on numerous Food Network specials and is currently a mentor on The Next Food Network Star.

Though she has been wildly successful and extremely popular, Giada has her detractors. In the beginning, for example, she was not taken seriously as a chef. The Giada haters accused the Food Network of hiring a model/actress pretending to cook instead of the classically trained chef she is. She is also infamous for over-enunciating Italian words within her English dialogue. And to the great dismay of women and progressives everywhere, she inexplicably told Redbook magazine in February 2011: "All men want to be treated like kings in a relationship, and I think if women don't indulge that, their men are likely to stray and look for someone who can give that to them." While she may not be everyone's cup of cappuccino, there is no denying that Giada has the education, experience, and expertise to qualify her as a legitimate chef.

Giada has written six cookbooks; her latest, Weeknights with Giada, focuses on recipes that can be ready in less than an hour. They are all recipes that can be pulled together at the end of a busy day but will make your family want to linger at the dinner table and have that much-needed quality family time that seems to be lacking these days.

In this latest cookbook, Giada has kept many of her Italian family traditions in the recipes but added a few of her own, like an entire section titled "Breakfast for Dinner." Since having a child four years ago, she has had to adjust her cooking to suit her modern family while staying true to her roots. While it may no longer be practical to simmer pots of marinara sauce for hours, she explains when and how a jar from the pantry may work with a little modification. Now, under common familial limitations, soccer parents need not fuss with trimming and steaming artichokes if a bag of frozen artichoke hearts will taste just the same in the recipe.

Giada uses store-bought, pre-cooked brown rice and pre-made pizza dough to also trim prep and cooking time. She suggests that a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator and freezer is what will cut out most prep time. Giada's recipes are quick and simple. She offers up not only Italian dishes like Lamb, Fontina and Greens bruschetta, Caramelized Onion, Sausage and Basil pizzas, and Orzo with Smoky Tomato Vinaigrette but also crosses the Italian border for dishes like Greek Meatballs, Thai Turkey Lettuce Cups and Chicken with Peruvian Chile Sauce.

The cookbook has many beautiful pictures of Giada and her family and some of the recipes. Unfortunately, not all the recipes come with a photo, but that may be my pet peeve. In modern-day cookbooks, I expect to see each recipe photographed, especially when it is geared toward the busy mom who is used to frozen or take-out meals. The typical home cook is not going to have any idea what a Chicken Meuniere with Tomato and Parsley Sauce is supposed to look like.

Giada's cookbook is well-written with easily understandable recipes. There are no hard-to-find ingredients, specialty utensils required or complicated cooking techniques. While I don't cook from any one cookbook for any length of time because I am always trying new things, a friend of mine uses Giada's recipes repeatedly and says they are foolproof and always turn out the same way time after time. This is a great cookbook for the busy cook of the family with no real cooking expertise or time. This is not Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade crap that uses lots of processed foods - this is real food, real cooking with great flavors.

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Patrise Shuttlesworth