We sat down with everyone’s favorite girl-next-door for our November issue to talk about her fresh approach to home cooking and her innovative new cookbook.
Her first book One Dish at a Time served up over 100 treasured family recipes for Italian dishes and stories from her life. Her latest cookbook Valerie’s Home Cooking draws from her experiences filming her Food Network show of the same name and is filled with delicious, modern, easy-to-make recipes that incorporate accessible ingredients in exciting new ways.
“There are over a hundred recipes, some that I have done on the show, some I want to do on the show.” she explains. “I have learned so much in the five years since my first cookbook.”
Give me an example of how you’re putting a modern twist on cooking.
Well, the first dish I learned to make was lasagna. I love lasagna. My mom always does it the traditional way with bolognese sauce and mozzarella…which is delicious. But I thought I need to kick it up a bit. I first tasted lasagna with Béchamel sauce while I was in in Italy with my husband Tom. And I thought, This is AH…mazing! I never saw my husband eat lasagna so quickly and then ask for a second slice. So I went ahead and reworked my recipe that was handed down from my mother and my grandmother .
What is it that you love most about cooking?
There’s something about food. Serving it to the people you love…the love you put into it. There’s nothing like it. I have loved cooking ever since I was a little girl. It’s something that I still absolutely love to do. And it’s really fun to do on a show, because at the show there is this amazing magical crew that comes in and cleans up after you. The first show that I did, I started cleaning up my dishes and my culinary producer Mary Beth said ‘You’re not supposed to do that. We’ll clean this up.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, really? I have people cleaning my kitchen? This is great!’
Now that you have your own cooking show, do you feel extra confident when you cook for friends?
No! It’s always nerve-wracking, because I want so much for people to enjoy it. And I know people have so many different tastes, so I know that I may disappoint somebody. But I also know I’m going to make at least one person super happy.
What’s your favorite recipe for entertaining friends from the book?
My Bacon Bites are definitely indulgent and so tasty. I always have to double the recipe when I make them for a gathering. I will just put out a bunch of hors d’oeuvres and do something easy. Any kind of baked chicken or a tenderloin is good. If I want it to be a little more special, I will make a nice casserole. Anything where I can put it in the oven and not worry about it, so I can go and actually be with my guests. I also do a lot of prep work the two days before a dinner party.
Have you had any kitchen disasters recently?
I seem to be a bit of a klutz in the kitchen lately. The last disaster I had was on the show. I totally flipped over my Zucchini Ginger Cake. It landed frosting side down on the counter! You’ll be seeing that on the show. Usually the crew will come in and say, ‘We’ll fix it. We’ll just bake another one quick.’ But I was like, ‘No, let’s just go with it…It happens.’
What inspires you?
I find inspiration all the time. It can be colors, people, my travels, plants, whatever…they are all inspiring to me. I’m like, “Ooh, I want to make a recipe with…”
Any advice for those who are intimidated by cooking?
Cooking is really not difficult. There’s no such thing as “perfect” in the kitchen. If I can do it, you can do it too.
Can you share a recipe from the book that includes one of your favorite ingredients?
I love clams, and this love affair of mine has been going on since I was a little girl with my nose pressed against the backseat window of my parents’ car on family road trips. We lived in Delaware at the time, and somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike there was a restaurant where we always stopped, and every time I ordered the steamers. It wasn’t typical fare for a 7- or 8-year-old, but I spent the previous 11 months thinking about those clams and even more I thought about dipping fresh, hard-crusted bread into garlic-and-butter-flavored broth. More recently, this memory has been updated by my friend, acclaimed chef Ludo Lefebvre, who serves mussels at his tiny bistro Petit Trois in Hollywood with a creamier sauce that gets more delicious with each bite. So for this book, I took it as a challenge to develop my own version of steamed clams. I tinkered in the kitchen for a few days, carefully taking notes until I got the flavors exactly as I wanted. Be forewarned: The clams need to be cleaned, the sandy grit and residue from ocean dwelling removed, either by soaking in salty water or rinsing in a bowl. The spicy garlic bread is to taste, and I serve this with either a chilled white wine or a bottle of cold beer.
Steamed Clams with Spicy Garlic Bread
Hands-on: 20 minutes Total: 20 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces smoked sausage, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1⁄8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon salted butter
1⁄8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1⁄8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound clams in shells, scrubbed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 lemon thyme or thyme sprigs
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium. Add the sausage; cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to drain on paper towels, reserving the drippings in the skillet.
Place the sausage in a large serving bowl.
Add the shallot to the skillet; cook, stirring often, until translucent and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper; cook for 1 minute. Add the wine, stirring and scraping to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the coconut milk, butter, turmeric, ginger, salt, and black pepper. Add the clams; cover the skillet, and let the mixture steam until the clams open, 6 to 7 minutes.
Transfer the clams to the bowl with the sausage. Stir the lime juice into the broth. Pour the broth over the clams and sausage. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs; discard the stems. Sprinkle the clam mixture with the lemon thyme leaves. Serve immediately with the Spicy Garlic Bread (recipe below).
Spicy Garlic Bread
Hand-on: 5 minutes Total: 10 minutes
1 (12-ounce) French bread loaf
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Pinch of kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the bread in half lengthwise through the top of the loaf, cutting to, but not through, the opposite side. Cut the bread crosswise at 1-inch intervals, cutting to, but not through, the opposite side.
Stir together the butter, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt. Spread the butter mixture over the bread and between the slices.
Bake until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
Excerpted from Valerie’s Home Cooking by Valerie Bertinelli. Copyright © 2017 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.