Ina Garten Shares Modern Takes On Classic Comfort Foods

Taking Something Familiar And Adding A Couple Of Touches To Make It Shine

tuna melt
Ultimate Tuna Melts from “Modern Comfort Food.” Photo by Quentin Bacon

The timing for Ina Garten’s new cookbook dishing out modern takes on classic comfort food was so perfect, it’s like she knew what 2020 was going to bring.

While she didn’t predict a global pandemic, she did know a contentious presidential election would be wrapping up about a month after “Modern Comfort Food” came out.

“I knew people were going to be totally stressed out,” Garten said. “I thought comfort food would be really what people need and what they want. And then I thought, well, maybe I’ll do it in a more modern way, update it, make it easier, make it fresher.”

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What does Garten mean by comfort food? It’s the remembered flavors from childhood, she said.

“But I think if you look back at tomato soup from a can and a grilled cheese sandwich, I don’t think you think it was all that good anymore,” she said. “But the memory of it is.”

To give it an adult spin, Garten makes a simple tomato soup, but adds a pinch of saffron to give it some heat, then makes the grilled cheese with good cheddar and some chutney. To come up with recipes for the book, Garten surveyed her friends for their favorite comfort foods.

One meal that came up over and over was a tuna sandwich.

“It’s like what your mother used to pack you for school or on a Saturday when you came home from a game or something,” she said.

Vanilla Cold-Brwed Coffee from “Modern Comfort Food.” Photo by Quenton Bacon

To update that classic, Garten makes the ultimate tuna melt. She recommends using Italian style canned tuna that’s packed in oil for extra flavor, rather than tuna that’s stored in water. Then, she adds cheese and tops it with microgreens.

“It’s just fresher and it’s got more flavor and it’s just delicious. It’s what you remember it should have been, but wasn’t,” Garten said.

It’s all about taking something familiar and comforting, and adding a few additional steps to make it shine, she said. To make a standout beef stew, Garten uses short ribs instead of chuck, sears it well and adds an acidic edge — like red wine — to wake up the flavors.

“I’m always looking for, how can I give it more flavor?” she said. “Anything that you can add to the sauce and also browning the meat and browning the onions so that they get the most flavor from them, that really makes a difference.”

Garten doesn’t leave drinks out of the mix. For her vanilla cold-brewed iced coffee, she puts a spin on one of the more comforting and classic drinks around by adding a drop of vanilla and cream to her cold brew.

Garten said using the cold brew method makes for a less acidic coffee. And the process is simple — put the beans and water in the refrigerator overnight, and the next day it’s coffee.

“It’s like having an ice cream soda, but it’s just coffee,” she said. “I find it really satisfying and I really look forward to it.”