‘We’re so stressed’: Ina Garten’s new book brings back the comfort of a childhood meal

“I knew exactly what I wanted,” says Ina Garten of Modern Comfort Food. “So in that sense, it was fun to write.”

Quentin Bacon

Our cookbook of the week is Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Split pea soup with crispy kielbasa, Brussels sprouts pizza carbonara, and broccoli and kale salad.

Ina Garten proved early on she was up to the task of making the pandemic more bearable. Her now-iconic Cosmopolitan — which she chilled in an enormous shaker and poured into a gigantic martini glass — added levity to a locked-down spring. “During a crisis,” she said in the IGTV clip, “cocktail hour can be almost any hour.”

Finding joy in small pleasures is as essential now as it was then. Whether the warmth of a bowl of split pea soup with crispy kielbasa, the richness of Brussels sprouts pizza carbonara, or the gentle buzz of a pomegranate gimlet, Garten goes all in on coziness in her twelfth cookbook, Modern Comfort Food (Clarkson Potter, 2020).

Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten

Modern Comfort Food is Ina Garten’s twelfth cookbook.

Clarkson Potter

When she started writing the book two years ago, she projected people would be in need of comfort leading up to the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3. But in the midst of COVID-19 and calls for racial justice, the concept of culinary consolation ended up being more timely than she ever expected.

“We’re so stressed,” says Garten. “We were anyway, and to add all these levels to it has been really difficult. Just making a big pot of soup or some kind of pasta, or things that satisfy us is more and more important.”

Since the pandemic hit, Garten has been shooting her Food Network show, Barefoot Contessa, at home in East Hampton, N.Y., without the aid of a crew; writing another book for publication in fall 2022; and making three meals a day, which she shares with her husband, Jeffrey.

Broccoli and kale salad from Modern Comfort Food

Broccoli and kale salad from Modern Comfort Food.

Quentin Bacon

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” she says with a laugh. Whereas before, an at-home dinner would have typically been a multi-course affair, now she’s content with making one good dish: “Simpler is better.”

As you might imagine, giving nostalgic dishes another look for Modern Comfort Food was hardly a chore. She naturally gravitates towards this style of eating, Garten says, and the ideas came effortlessly. In some ways, she adds, it’s the easiest book she’s ever written.

While with previous titles, she might have tested recipes up to 10 times to get them just right, with Modern Comfort Food, often one or two trials was enough. “I knew exactly what I wanted,” she says. “So in that sense, it was fun to write.”

Brussels sprouts pizza carbonara from Modern Comfort Food

Brussels sprouts pizza carbonara from Modern Comfort Food.

Quentin Bacon

Taking inspiration from friends, her own taste memories, and being “out in the world” at restaurants, farmers’ markets and grocery stores, Garten had one concern when developing the recipes for Modern Comfort Food: They had to be profoundly satisfying.

A tuna fish sandwich, which is far and away the favourite comfort food among her friends, became an “ultimate tuna melt.” The Barefoot Contessa version calls for oil-packed Spanish tuna, minced scallions, fresh dill, Swiss cheese and a scattering of microgreens. Her puréed potatoes with lemon have roots in an Argentinian restaurant in Paris, where she was struck by the use of citrus zest to brighten up what would have otherwise been an ordinary side dish.

One of her own cherished comfort foods, the canned pea soup her mother used to top with cut-up hot dogs, gets a from-scratch treatment with a pan-fried kielbasa garnish. The smoked Polish sausage is already cooked, so it doesn’t ask any more of the maker than the hot dogs of yore. “It was about getting the best flavour with the least amount of effort,” says Garten of the update.


Whether you share her associations with the likes of garlic bread and mashed potatoes or not, Modern Comfort Food is a reminder of the solace and celebration wrapped up in eating nostalgically. While the specifics may differ person to person, there’s universality in the feeling. Even for a moment, a taste of childhood can result in a visceral sense of happier times — when we were carefree or being cared for.

We show support by cooking for others, Garten says, which is something she encourages at all times, not just difficult ones.

“I’m not big on cooking for myself. I admire people that do. If it’s just me, I’ll make a bowl of oatmeal, but that makes me feel good. I just love cooking for people that I love. And so cooking for Jeffrey is good for me,” says Garten, laughing. “It’s really the connection that I’m looking for as much as the sustenance.”

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