Celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis shares her favourite places in Italy

Giada De Laurentiis' latest book is a deep dive into some of the country's best dishes, adapted for American home cooks.
Giada De Laurentiis' latest book is a deep dive into some of the country's best dishes, adapted for American home cooks.PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - Both food and fame are in Giada De Laurentiis' family history.

Long before Giada De Laurentiis became a star on the Food Network, beginning in 2002 - she has had nine shows, including Giada In Italy - her grandfather, Dino De Laurentiis, produced Federico Fellini's 1954 drama La Strada, the 1973 film Serpico, and also owned an early Eataly progenitor called DDL Foodshow in New York City and Beverly Hills, California.

After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in anthropology, Giada De Laurentiis perfected her cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and ran her own catering business.

De Laurentiis, who was born in Rome, has written nine cookbooks. Her latest, Giada's Italy: My Recipes For La Dolce Vita, is a deep dive into some of the country's best dishes, adapted for American home cooks.

Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with De Laurentiis.

Q: How does your dream trip to Italy begin?

A: I usually start in Rome, because that's where my family lives. When I land, the first thing I have is warm pizza bianca with fresh mozzarella inside. My mom usually gets it for me, but a lot of places have it, like Antico Forno Roscioli - which means "old oven" in Italian.

Q: What's your go-to gelato stop (and your order)?

A: Gelateria De Neri, in Florence, is a good one. I love espresso, pistachio, and fig and rum, something I started having when I lived in France.

Q: Which region of Italy is underrated?

A: Sicily is the undiscovered part of Italy that people don't go to very often, and then the outskirts of Naples. The government doesn't spend as much money in tourism there, but it honestly has some of the best food, the best farmers markets.

For instance - I'm going into a tangent - but my grandfather's family had a pasta factory right outside of Naples. His parents made pasta and sauces, and he and his siblings would go door to door to sell it when he was a child.

That whole area was all pasta factories, but when I say that, you can't think of the factory the way you think of a factory in Detroit. Think of a building, and part of the building they make pasta all day. They hang it on the roof, OK? Like on clothes lines. And then they live in that same building.

There's blocks and blocks of that. Setaro is one of those companies that's still family run and still in that same exact building. It's phenomenal. They don't have modern machines - it's cut with bronze cutters - so they can't make as much; the texture, the flavour, the size, the shapes, they're all unique. It's sold online.

Q: Do you have a favourite Italian hotel?

A: The great thing about Italy is it's so small. You can take a train or drive to this place up in the hills of Tuscany: Monteverdi. It's just beautiful up there and very serene. It's a place to recharge. They have a great spa to relax in, culinary classes where you can learn how to make pastas with them in-house, an art gallery, trails to go hiking - a little bit of everything people enjoy. I really like it because it's away from everything. For me, a very peaceful thing is to walk through the vineyard, through the vines.

Q: What souvenirs do you try to bring back with you?

A: I like going to fun antique shops on this really cute street in Rome called Via dei Coronari. I'm a huge lover of baby spoons and forks. These are family heirlooms from all over. I have a whole set of gold ones and a whole set of silver ones, but they're not all the same. There's also this man with the shop La Bottega del Marmoraro on Rome's Via Margutta, right by the Spanish Steps, where my mother lives. He writes Italian sayings on little pieces of white marble. I take them home all the time. One I have is "Sorridi e la vita ti sorride" - "If you smile, life will smile back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2018, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe