Giada De Laurentiis acknowledges that the Food Network is aiming for a hipper demographic these days. The cable network best known for serving up cooking shows, both rudimentary (The Essence of Emeril) and trivial (Iron Chef), has gotten a bit, um, hot and spicy lately. "They're trying to draw in a younger audience," says the 34-year-old hottie host of Everyday Italian. "And they're not going to do that with [hefty chef] Mario [Batali]."
De Laurentiis was courted by the network after executives saw a magazine spread that featured the cook -- who studied at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris -- preparing dishes for her family, which includes grandfather Dino, a movie producer since the 1940s (his résumé includes the hit Hannibal and 1976's disastrous King Kong remake). "My family thinks it's so funny that I'm in front of the camera," she laughs. "Because I wanted to stay away from anything that had to do with movies."
In her new book, also named Everyday Italian, De Laurentiis gathers simple recipes that cover can't-live-without basics (marinara sauce) to must-try desserts (chocolate zabaglione). "Italian food is easy, and you don't have to go out to fancy Italian restaurants to get these great meals," she says. "I grew up on all of these dishes. My mother was not a chef, by any means, and if she can do it, most people can do it.
"It's really about having a well-stocked pantry. You can create wonderful dishes if you always have certain things on hand." Among them: extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, red-pepper flakes, dried pasta, and canned cannellini beans.
And while her life has been filled with food -- from working in Wolfgang Puck's Los Angeles restaurant to starting her own catering business -- De Laurentiis claims that she never tires of cooking. "I just try to keep it simple," she says. "I don't have time to do anything fancy."
Which is where Everyday Italian, the book, comes in. Use it, urges De Laurentiis. "This is not a coffee-table book," she says. "Make the recipes. Because there is no better place to eat than at home."