Tastemakers: Giada De Laurentiis on Italian Holiday Foods and Entertaining Dos & Don’ts

Giada De Laurentiis
Melissa Libertelli/Food Network

Italy couldn’t have asked fora better ambassador than Giada De Laurentiis. Since making her debut on the Food Network in 2003 with EverydayItalian, the classically trained chef and former food stylist has been winning over home cooks with her high-wattage smile, welcoming demeanor and — of course — penchant for overenunciating words like pancetta and rigatoni. (De Laurentiis comes by her Old World accent honestly: She was born in Rome and moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 7.)

Now a longtime member of the culinary media A-list, the 48-year-old keeps a finger in every pot. She’s written nine cookbooks, opened three restaurants, launched her own cookware line and continues to host multiple series, including Giada’s Holiday Handbook, which wraps its fourth season on December 16.

The finale serves up a “Family Christmas Dinner,” with special-occasion fare like standing rib roast, cavatelli with Gorgonzola and tomatoes and, for dessert,a trifle featuring the traditional sweet bread panettone. (Say it with us: “Pan-uh-tone-ay!”) Here, De Laurentiis shares a slice of good cheer.

TV Insider: You’re known for recipes that offer a modern take on Italian cuisine. Is that how you prefer to cook when the cameras stop rolling too?

Giada De Laurentiis: My approaches on set and in my own life are pretty similar. As a busy mom [to daughter Jade, 10, with ex Todd Thompson], I like to keep my recipes simple and delicious, with accessible ingredients — and I like to share those same recipes. They’re always very personal to me.

Food trends come and go. Anything out there that people go gaga for but you think is overrated?

Bone marrow. It’s very rich, and I don’t like the texture.

How often do fans ask you to do your trademark pronunciation of Italian words?

All the time. Since Italian was my first language, I can’t help but say Italian words with the proper Italian pronunciation, even though I have an American accent. I think the juxtaposition catches people off guard, and they get a kick out of it because it’s unexpected.

Any especially beloved holiday foods and traditions in your house?

Panettone is one of my favorite holiday foods. I especially love the From Roy panettone [available on ThisIsFromRoy.com], so much so that I recently collaborated with Chef Roy Shvartzapel to make a chocolate and orange one for the holidays. It’s delicious! And my daughter and I bake Christmas cookies. My favorite kind to make with Jade are double chocolate butter cookies. We love to decorate them together.

When it comes to entertaining during the holidays, what are the biggest dos and don’ts?

Don’t try to do it all yourself. Do plan. Make things ahead of time.

If all you could eat for the rest of your life was the cooking of a fellow Food Network star, whose would it be?

Alex Guarnaschelli, who is one of the judges on Chopped. She made me a chocolate espresso cake for my birthday a couple of years ago, and from that day on, her cooking stole my heart.

And who among the Food Network crew would be your pick for the best Santa Claus? How about the worst?

Michael Symon [Iron Chef] would make the best Santa Claus, because of his jolly laugh. And Alton Brown [Good Eats] would be the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Giada’s Holiday Handbook, Season Finale, Sunday, Dec. 16, 11:30/10:30c, Food Network

Bacon Cranberry Scones with Citrus Basil Butter

Giadas Bacon Cranberry Scones with Citrus Basil Butt

Makes 16

Scone Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter,
cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Butter ingredients
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter,
at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons orange zest (from 1 large orange)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the scones: Place rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 375˚. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and salt until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Transfer to medium bowl and stir in bacon and cranberries. Gradually stir in cream until it forms a dough. On a lightly floured surface, pat dough into a 1⁄2-inch-thick, 11-by-5-inch rectangle. Cut into 8 squares. Cut each square into 2 triangles. Place on baking sheet. Sprinkle cheese on tops of scones. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.

For the butter: In a small bowl, mix butter, basil, orange zest and salt. Serve at room temperature alongside the scones.