Let’s get one thing straight. Though renowned chef Giada De Laurentiis is an Emmy-winning Food Network personality, cookbook author, restaurateur and entrepreneur, she prepares her meals in her home kitchen like everybody else.
“Using a commercial or production kitchen doesn’t work for what I do,” says De Laurentiis, who cooks up to five times a week in her LA home. “I’m trying to teach the average person how to make a certain dish without too many steps. That translates to being at home and using my own pots and pans on my own stove. That’s how you make cooking really accessible.”
De Laurentiis shares even more expertise via Giadzy, an Italian lifestyle platform that features more than 200 curated artisanal products (from breadsticks to artichoke spread), recipes, travel guides and more. “People were saying to me during the pandemic, ‘I can’t go to my mom and pop Italian grocer, so what do I do now?” she says. “Then after the world opened back up, our perspective changed on where we eat, how we eat and what we eat. Eating at home just makes you feel better.” (Giadzy was her childhood nickname.)
To feel your best in the kitchen, think quality items over quantity. “I look at people’s drawers and there are a ton of gadgets and utensils in there that nobody ever uses,” she says. On the flip side, a well-stocked pantry can do wonders: “If you have all the staples, you will never feel like you can’t put a meal together at the drop of a hat. You’ll only have to go to the store to buy vegetables and protein.”
Hungry for more information? De Laurentiis spoke with CNN Underscored about her recipe for culinary success.
• Related: The best kitchen essentials we’ve tested
A proper knife sits at No. 1 on her list. “You want one that feels good in your hand,” she says. The chef picks a Japanese Santoku utensil because it’s light yet sturdy, and she notes that a metal handle — as opposed to a wooden one — is ideal for cleaning. She uses a serrated knife for bread and a small paring knife for slicing tomatoes, lemon peels and other citruses. And don’t forget to sharpen ‘em up! De Laurentiis does every day.
This is a biggie on many levels. After all, a Dutch oven “is fantastic for soups, stews, sauces, ragus and anything that requires long cooking time,” she explains. “The cast iron allows it to heat more evenly without burnt patches.” She likes a heavy Le Creuset because it features a seven-ply construction, guaranteeing excellent heat distribution. She keeps her pan right on her stove and advises her fellow cooks to do the same: “Pick a fun color that looks great in your kitchen!”
• Related: The best Dutch ovens we’ve tested
De Laurentiis owns stainless-steel high-sided Made In skillets in various sizes (8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch, in case you’re wondering). But, she adds, “that’s only because I cook a lot for different amounts of people. You really only need one — especially if you live alone.” As she explains it, the right pan is simmering with possibilities. “You can make bases for sauces, chicken Piccata, Milanese and you can scramble eggs in it,” she says.
The truth is, De Laurentiis will opt for any kind of uncooked pasta because of its long shelf life. The only requisite is that the noodles must be made in Italy. “American wheat tends to be the worst of the bunch because it’s highly processed and modified and will make me feel bloated at night,” she says. She handpicked the imported pasta on her site because it’s higher quality with minimal ingredients. Just durum wheat semolina and water, to be exact.
No rotten tomatoes here. “Fresh tomatoes aren’t always in season, don’t always have the right flavor and you’re not going to be able to keep them for two months,” she says. But canned or jarred tomatoes in any form are always ready (red-dy?) to go. “I mix the peeled tomatoes with a little dried oregano and make pizza sauce,” she says. “You really don’t even need to cook it.” That said, she uses it as a base for soups and stews, too.
“Salt is the basis of all flavor, right?” she says. “But people under-salt their food and instead add more butter and fat because they’re compensating. They don’t realize that salt itself isn’t bad for you. The processed stuff with all the preservatives is bad for you.” De Laurentiis sprinkles Kosher salt on her dressings and pastas because it’s thicker and “I can feel it in my fingertips how much I’m using.” She also likes to season it with dried oregano and lemon zest.
Per the chef, spice is the variety of life — and a savory dish or stew. This packet is a spicy blend of dried Calabrian chile peppers, tomato, parsley and garlic. “I like it because it’s a flavor bomb,” she says. “I also don’t have to go into a high-end grocery store and just buy fresh oregano or rosemary for $7 that will go bad.”