Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis is a native of Rome and grew up in Southern California. The granddaughter of famed film producer Dino De Laurentiis, she learned to cook in her family’s kitchens and in her grandfather’s restaurant.
She graduated from UCLA with a degree in social anthropology and later attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris with hopes of becoming a pastry chef. After returning to the United States, she worked in several Los Angeles-area restaurants, including Spago. Work as a food stylist led to shows and other appearances on Food Network, for which she has become most widely known. Her first restaurant, Giada, opened at The Cromwell in 2014; her second spot, the fast-casual Pronto, opened at Caesars Palace early this year. She has published nine cookbooks, including “Giada’s Italy,” released in March (Clarkson Potter; $35).
Las Vegas Review-Journal: In your new cookbook, you talk about “the pleasure that Italian home cooks take in every aspect of preparing meals,” which sounds a lot like a cross between the slow-food and farm-to-table movements in America, although a more pure version of both. Would you agree with that, and what can Americans learn from Italians’ enjoyment of meal prep?
De Laurentiis: Yes, definitely. In “Giada’s Italy,” I talk a lot about “la dolce vita,” which is about embracing life and enjoying each moment. In Italy, no one is in a rush like we are in America and with cooking, it’s more than just preparing a meal — it’s about taking pleasure in cooking for those you love, and slowing down to embrace every moment.
What do you think Americans like so much about your interpretations of classic dishes?
I put a California twist on Italian dishes, so my dishes are usually lighter and fresher, but still very Italian. I also simplify the recipes and include ingredients that are easy to find. It shouldn’t be hard to make a great meal!
Always in your fridge at home?
Dark chocolate, Fuji apples, fennel, arugula, Parmigiano reggiano and usually a leftover pasta dish.
Currently obsessed with?
Shakeratos (espresso shaken with ice) … and Cardi B!
Newest Las Vegas discovery?
I recently took (daughter) Jade on a helicopter ride over the Strip for her birthday and it was SO fun. We’re going to do another ride over the Grand Canyon next month. Definitely my new favorite way to see Las Vegas and other parts of Nevada!
A sailboat trip to the Sicilian Islands.
I never eat …
Coconut or kombucha
Favorite brunch at home?
Refrigerator frittata if it’s just me and Jade. When friends drop by, the Smoked Scamorza, Spinach and Pancetta Pizza from my new book. It’s topped with a sunny-side-up egg and always a crowd pleaser. My peach, corn and burrata salad is also simple to throw together and so delicious.
Best tip for home cooks?
Always start by reading a recipe all the way through so you make sure you have all the ingredients, equipment and time you need. And taste. Every step of the way, taste. That is the best and only way to make sure everything is seasoned properly.
Have you been working on any other Las Vegas projects?
Not yet. I’m tackling Baltimore first. But things are always changing in the Vegas world.
Smoked Scamorza, Spinach and Pancetta Pizza
1 (16-ounce) ball of store-bought pizza dough
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
5 ounces baby spinach, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 pound smoked scamorza or smoked mozzarella cheese, grated
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Place the pizza dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and allow it to rest in a warm place for one hour.
Position one rack in the highest position of the oven and remove the others. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Place the pancetta in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until crispy, about eight minutes. Drain off half of the fat. Add the spinach to the hot pan, turn off the heat and stir until the spinach is wilted. Set aside.
Dust a rimmed baking sheet that has been flipped upside down with the flour. Gently stretch the pizza dough into a round and place it on the flour-dusted baking sheet. Continue to stretch out to a 1/4-inch thickness, leaving it a little thicker around the edges. Sprinkle the dough with half of the cheese. Spoon the spinach mixture over the cheese layer and top with the remaining cheese. Place the baking sheet directly on the floor of the oven and bake for five minutes, then move the sheet to the top shelf and finish cooking for an additional five minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
When you move the pizza to the top rack, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Crack the four eggs into the skillet and cook them until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about three minutes. Slide the eggs onto the pizza and serve.
Italian Chicken and Rice
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound chicken tenders
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon Calabrian chile paste
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 fresh sage sprigs
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
3/4 cup frozen peas
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Extra-virgin olive oil, to finish
Heat a medium straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Melt the butter until the bubbles subside. Season the chicken tenders evenly on both sides with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the chicken tenders to the pan in one layer. Cook the chicken for about four minutes per side, or until golden brown. (They don’t need to be cooked through at this stage; they will cook further with the rice.) Transfer the chicken to a plate and set it aside.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and garlic to the pan, along with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened and beginning to caramelize, about four minutes. Add the rice and chile paste and cook, stirring frequently, for an additional two minutes to toast the rice. Add the milk, chicken broth, sage, thyme and cheese rind, and stir to combine.
Return the chicken tenders and their juices to the pan, nestling the chicken down into the rice. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle the peas on top. Replace the cover and allow the mixture to steam for an additional 12 minutes off the heat. Remove the herbs and rind from the pan and discard. Fluff the rice with a fork. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Italian Carrot Salad
1/3 cup limoncello
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 pounds large carrots, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces soft goat cheese
In a small saucepan, gently warm the limoncello over medium heat until steam begins to come off the top. It should be hot to the touch but not simmering. Remove from the heat, add the dried cranberries and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the cranberries to soak for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Drain and set aside.
Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the carrots into a medium bowl. Season the carrots with the salt and toss well. Add the soaked cranberries, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil and toss again to combine. Crumble the goat cheese over the top and serve.
Recipes from “Giada’s Italy”
Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.