So there’s this woman – she’s called Ina Garten. You probably won’t know who she is. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t either. But then I started making use of the mostly American Food Network channel, and there Ina was. Just waiting for me to find her.
Ina Garten is an American TV chef (she hosts a show called The Barefoot Contessa) – but not just any TV chef. She makes Nigella’s brand of life-style envy look pitiful. Ina sees her west London pad, millionaire partner and posh friends and raises her a Hamptons Beach House, devoted Jewish husband and a hareem of spunky gay florists. Ina arguably has the best life I’ve come across.
I have learnt basically everything I need to know about this magical place called The Hamptons from her programme. If you’re not familiar with what goes on there, here it is in bullet form:
1.) They buy all their food in delis and fishmongers. They know everyone behind the counters and their purchases are wrapped in brown paper. They also have some sort of currency system which means they NEVER pay for anything with cash, but rather just a wide smile and promise of left overs. (NB this may be for stream-lined editing purposes and so I wouldn’t recommend following suit without investigating further).
2.) All the women wear loose linen shirts (especially if they’re built like Ina, who has both the chirp and plumpness of an over-fed little partridge).
3.) they spend hundreds of pounds and man-hours on something they like to call “dressing the table”. Over here in the dreary London I know, a table doesn’t normally get dressed. The most tarted-up a table gets is with a bunch of Sainsbury’s flowers the guest has brought which ultimately gets removed because no one can see each other. But over in The Hamptons, entire job titles are dedicated to simply putting things on a table. These things often extend the theme of the meal in a rather demonstrative fashion. Citrus fruits, sweets, eggs, artichokes, cinnamon sticks, grapes, leaves and oats are arranged in sculpture form amongst fabric, glass and boards simply for the guests viewing pleasure. I KNOW, RIGHT?!
4.) People from The Hamptons talk a lot about barbecues because they love barbecues. Especially ones on the beach. They like making the components for a lavish meal and then packing them all up in cardboard boxes, taking it to the beach and sizzling it all to within an inch of its life. While they’re down there, they’ll often spend a lot of time making jokes about the barbecue and talking about the barbecue. Who is best at the barbecue, whether it’s the weather for a barbecue, who always eats the most at the barbecue. These bits will become more normal to you as time goes by.
5.) The above is rarely sanctioned without a gingham table cloth and pop-up beach table.
6.) They love getting pissed and playing bridge.
7.) They are all best mates with beautiful gay men. Two regulars on Ina’s show include Michael Grim (a cute, specky, Bridgehampton florist with a heavy lisp) and TR. Good God, TR. A man so devastatingly handsome, he makes other alleged silver foxes look like marled-grey stray dogs.
8.) They care little for portion control. Once, Ina made an intimate anniversary dinner for Jeffery and created a four tier cake to replicate the one served at their wedding. Just for the two of them.
Her recipes vary from butter-soaked New England classics (the woman is unabashed and bold about her butter-use. She won’t apologise to anyone for it. If you don’t like butter, then leave. AND SHUT THE WHITE-PICKET FENCE GATE ON YOUR WAY OUT), to traditional French farmhouse dishes. She picked up most of these when she went on a six month camping trip around France with Jeffery when they were just married, God love ‘em.
I have a catalogue of fail-safe Ina recipes. She makes a white fish baked in a caper, creme fraiche and mustard sauce which is heavenly. (“IT’S JUST SO CHIC!” she explains inbetween mouthfuls). She also makes delicious cornbread, angel cake, savory palmiers and chicken piccata. But my favourite Ina Garten recipe is her four hour lamb served with Provencal beans. It always works, it’s a massive crowd-pleaser, and it’s really easy to make. The beans take a basic chop, sauté and stir but the lamb pretty much takes care of itself. Steaming and braising in a garlicky wine broth.
It also just looks bloody lovely shredded onto a plate on top of the beans. Whether or not you have a table dressed with lamb bones and gold dust amongst candles.
However I do insist you call it “Lamb with PRAAAHVAAAHNCAAAAHL beans” like that, just to keep things authentic.
In my very lowest moments, I sometimes imagine I’m Ina. When I’m on the Metropolitan Line, sat next to a man coughing into his sodden Kleenex. When I’m wearing a pair of tights too short and the gusset is hanging about my knees. When I find all the cigarettes snapped and falling around in my bag, covering all makeup in tabacco. I let myself dream. Dream of being Ina and having nothing to do all day but sauté things in kilo upon kilo of butter for a beach date with TR.
So here’s your little piece of Ina. To inject some weird Hamptons magic into your comparatively grim world.
(30 Rock fans, click here and scroll down for clip).
Ina Garten’s 4 hour braised lamb with Provencal beans.
1 6/7 pound leg of lamb
salt and pepper
1 (750-ml) bottle dry white wine
2 heads of garlic, broken apart but not peeled
15 large sprigs fresh rosemary
15 large sprigs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Rub the lamb all over with olive oil and season. Heat a very large Dutch oven such as Le Creuset over medium-high heat until its hot. Add the lamb and sear on all sides for about 12 minutes, until its browned all over. Remove the lamb to a plate.
Add the wine and 2 cups of water to the pan and cook for a minute or two, de-glazing the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves and the lamb on top. Place the lid on the pot and bake in the oven for 4 hours, basting occasionally. (If you dont have a lid, you can cover it tightly with 2 layers of foil.)
After 4 hours, the lamb should be incredibly tender and falling off the bone. Remove the lamb to a plate, cover it tightly with foil and allow it to rest. Strain the sauce into a saucepan and bring to a boil (I like to press the garlic paste out of the skins and into the pot). Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes to reduce. The lamb will be too tender to slice; serve it warm on a large plate, with spoons and sauce with the beans arranged around it.
14 ounces white beans (I used tinned)
1/4 litre chicken stock
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Place the beans a large saucepan with the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but not mushy. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Drain, reserving the stock.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil, then add the onions, diced carrots, and celery, and cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Add the parsley, garlic, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 1 more minute. Add the beans and 2 cups of the cooking stock. (If you dont have enough liquid, add additional stock or water to make 2 cups.) Cook for 15 minutes until the stock makes a little sauce, adding more stock if necessary. Finish with the Parmesan cheese. Serve with a garnish of chopped parsley.