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Comfort food is, to many families, countries, and cultures, a spectrum. To some, it may be a soothing platter of macaroni and cheese; to others, it’s reaching for a bowl of miso soup, bobbing with hunks of tofu. And to Ina Garten, the hostess queen and Barefoot Contessa, comfort food has long revolved around the ability to not only soothe, but to also bring people together. 

Related Reading: Ina Garten Wants You to Cook Like a Pro with Her Latest Cookbook

That’s the theme of her 12th book, “Modern Comfort Food.” Here, Ina devotes an entire cookbook to the foods that boast an inherent ability to comfort, a balm to the bad and stressful days and everything in between. The 85 recipes are divided into six sections—cocktails, lunch, dinner, vegetables & sides, dessert, and breakfast—with plenty of familiar favorites and riffs on classic dishes that are even better than you remember. 

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Expect dishes like crispy chicken with lemon orzo, warm spinach and artichoke dip, cheddar and chutney grilled cheese, and black and white cookies. Alongside the recipes, Ina also makes certain to list what she calls good ingredients—aka,  items she recommends not only for these recipes, but to also always have on hand, like fine flaky sea salt, Grey Poupon mustard, and homemade chicken stock. 

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Next time you’re in the mood for something comforting, look to Ina’s recipe for baked rigatoni with lamb ragu. She reiterates that no comfort food collection is complete without some kind of baked pasta, and this assemblage calls for one stuffed with plenty of cheese and lamb. The lamb ragù, which is cooked down with onions, carrots, fennel, tomatoes, wine, and spices, is mixed with the cheesy rigatoni, spread into a baking dish, and slipped into the oven. The result is a bubbling mess of tomatoes, cheese, and meat, the pasta crusty on top, yet soft and sticky with cheese inside. Now that’s the kind of comfort food we need this year.        

Reprinted from Modern Comfort Food. Copyright © 2020 by Ina Garten. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House.

Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Ragu Recipe

No collection of comfort foods is complete without some kind of baked pasta—it’s so satisfying. Instead of the usual lasagna, I made this baked rigatoni with a hearty ragù of lamb, tomatoes, and good red wine. With a little mozzarella and Parmesan baked on top, you’ve got a dinner that will make everyone happy.

Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Ragù

Serves: 8
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 large)
  • 2 cups (½-inch) diced fennel, cored (1 medium)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, such as San Marzano
  • 2½ cups dry red wine, such as Chianti or Côtes du Rhône, divided
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed with your hands
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni, such as De Cecco
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • ²⁄₃ cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound fresh salted mozzarella, divided
  • ½ cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium (10 to 11-inch) heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and fennel and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown. Add the lamb, garlic, and fennel seeds and cook for 8 minutes, breaking up the lamb with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, 2 cups of the wine, the oregano, red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partly covered, for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the remaining ½ cup of red wine.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt and the rigatoni and cook according to the directions on the package, until barely al dente. Drain.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Add the rigatoni and toss well. Grate half of the mozzarella on a box grater and add it to the rigatoni mixture. Add the lamb mixture, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper and toss well.
  4. Transfer a 10 × 14 × 2-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Slice the remaining mozzarella and arrange it on top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is hot and bubbling and some of the pasta is crusty on top. Serve hot.

Header image by Quentin Bacon.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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