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From the food editor: Six things you need to know about Ina Garten

Poised, composed and classy, she is a celebrity chef in a way many celebrity chefs are not. She doesn't do a ton of publicity, she doesn't have eight different shows on the Food Network — heck, she reportedly doesn't even watch her own show.

And she cooks for the people.

She is Ina Garten, whose cookbooks and cooking show The Barefoot Contessa have helped maintain a decadeslong career in the culinary world. In the celeb chef realm, Garten is the undisputed queen of entertaining, a warm presence who invites viewers into her home and is always willing to share her cooking with others, particularly her husband, Jeffrey. Her food is simple but stellar, homey but elegant — an inspiration to home cooks and professional chefs alike. Everyone loves the Barefoot Contessa.

On Nov. 2, Tampa foodies can see her in person, when the Brooklyn-based chef comes to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts for An Evening With Ina Garten. Before she comes to town, Times food critic Laura Reiley got a chance in the interview for our cover story to talk to her about her past, her favorite recipes and her decadeslong fame.

Here are some other things you may not know about her.

Ina and Jeffrey go way back. Anyone familiar with Garten is also familiar with her husband, at least by name. Jeffrey is referred to constantly on the chef's Food Network show; he is the beneficiary of her mouth-watering meals. It has been practically a lifelong love. She met Jeffrey when was just 15 years old, and married him in 1968, when she was 20 and he was 22.

She used to work in the White House. Specifically, in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where she was a budget analyst under Presidents Ford and Carter. I know, right?

This is how she got that nickname. The Barefoot Contessa was the name of the specialty foods store Garten bought in 1978 that launched her career in food. By the mid-'90s, she turned the Hamptons-set store, named after a 1954 Ava Gardner-Humphrey Bogart movie, into a business with more than 100 employees.

She is kind of a hoarder. Garten collects cookbooks and cake stands, and stores them in one room in her test kitchen across the street from her house, nicknamed the Barn.

Her show has been on for more than a decade. The Barefoot Contessa has filmed more than 250 episodes since it began in 2002 on the Food Network.

She is into pop culture. She told the Food Network that she's a huge Taylor Swift fan. A couple of years ago, she posted an Instagram on her account @inagarten with the caption: "Just another day at the office — OMG cooking with Taylor Swift! Love her!!! @taylorswift @foodnetwork_mag". She also considers Tina Fey a pal.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

>>EASY

Roasted Italian Meatballs

Traditionally, meatballs are fried in a pan until they're browned on all sides, but I've always hated the mess. Instead, I assemble these meatballs, put them on big sheet pans, brush them with olive oil, and roast them. Moist, delicious meatballs filled with Pecorino, Parmesan, garlic, and parsley and I don't have to clean the stove — or myself! — after they're done!

1 pound ground sirloin

½ pound ground pork

½ pound ground veal

1 ¾ cups dry seasoned bread crumbs

½ cup freshly ground Italian Pecorino cheese

½ cup freshly ground Italian Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

¾ cup dry red wine, such as Chianti

¼ cup good olive oil

2 (32-ounce) jars good marinara sauce

Cooked spaghetti, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Place the sirloin, pork and veal in a large mixing bowl and lightly break up the meats with a fork and your fingertips. Add the bread crumbs, Pecorino, Parmesan, garlic, parsley, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Add the eggs, wine and ¾ cup water and combine lightly but thoroughly.

Measure out 2-ounce portions of the mixture (I use a rounded 1 ¾-inch ice cream scoop) and roll each lightly into a ball. Place 1 inch apart on the prepared sheet pans. Brush the meatballs with the olive oil.

Bake the meatballs for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Pour the marinara into a large pot and bring to a simmer. Carefully add the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes, until heated through.

To serve with spaghetti, distribute among shallow pasta bowls. Spoon the meatballs and sauce onto the pasta. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan and serve hot.

Makes 30 to 32 meatballs; serves 10.

Source: Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2016)

From the food editor: Six things you need to know about Ina Garten 10/17/16 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2016 4:05pm]
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