Michael Weschler/Corbis Outline

A love of food runs in the family for this Italian cooking enthusiast.

August 28, 2008

Some might say Giada De Laurentiis was born with a wooden spoonin her mouth. The popular hostess of the Food Network's Everyday Italian and Behind the Bash comes from a long line of Italian foodlovers, including her grandfather, movie producer Dino DeLaurentiis. An early childhood in Rome introduced her to the tastesof Italy that eventually led to instruction at Le Cordon Bleu inParis, a stint in the kitchen at Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills,and the creation of her own catering company. These days, you'llstill find De Laurentiis taking inspiration from her family as shepreps her latest cookbook, Giada's Family Dinners.

What is your first food memory?
My grandfather owned gourmet food stores called DDL Foodshowin New York and L.A. in the 1980s. I still remember the first timeI walked in one when I was 12. It was a revolutionary store then,with ingredients that were exotic here at the time, like freshprosciutto and provolone. I loved seeing the smiles of the patronsand the amazement on their faces. I had been cooking since the ageof five, but this was the first time I realized I wanted to dosomething in the food business.

Have your shows changed the way you cook at home?
I love to go wild experimenting with different gourmetingredients and styles of cooking, but most nights involve simpleingredients and big flavor. I enjoy cooking Asian and Indian food,since they're flavors I didn't grow up eating.

What's the most essential ingredient in your kitchen?
You're probably thinking I would say garlic or olive oil, butfor me, it's lemons. I use their juice or zest to bring out theflavors of almost everything I make. Lemon juice is fat free andfull of clean flavor, and it's especially useful for lighterdishes. You can also use it as a substitute for the crispness ofwhite wine in a recipe, if you prefer not to use alcohol.

Any tips on how to put a meal on the table quickly? One ofthe most important things is having a well-stocked pantry. Twice amonth I go to the store in search of staples like garlic, onions,canned tuna, canned beans, dried pastas, jarred tomato sauces (justmake sure the first ingredient is tomatoes, not sugar!), frozenpeas and spinach, chicken stock, capers, and herbes deProvence―the basics that will enhance a dish and bring a mealtogether in a hurry. Then, once a week I purchase fresh produce andmeat. I find it's easier to pick up one or two things than to beoverwhelmed by tracking down every single ingredient in arecipe.

Is there one dish you rely on when time is of the essence?
If I'm craving pasta, my favorite is farfalle with turkeysausage, mushrooms, and peas. In the time it takes to cook thepasta, my meal is done.

Some Italian foods can seem indulgent. Any tips for how to makedishes more healthful?
Italian cooking relies on fresh vegetables, but I like to useeven more than a recipe might call for. Roasted vegetables give offso much flavor, and they can keep a dish interesting. Plus, they'refilling. You can enjoy what you eat and not overeat. It ispossible―and a lot of fun.

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