Star at the Stove: Gwyneth Paltrow
I first met Gwyneth Paltrow while I was working on the cookbook for Spain... On the Road Again, the 2008 public television show she shot with her friend Mario Batali. I knew Gwyneth was into food when I saw her in action at the dinner table (don't sit next to her if you want to keep all your french fries for yourself), but I wasn't sure whether that fascination with food led all the way to cooking. Then we spent some time together in her London kitchen. When I saw how thinly she sliced garlic—how focused she was, how sharp she kept her knife—I immediately realized that Gwyneth cooks the way she does almost everything: with thoughtfulness, purpose and huge curiosity.
Gwyneth and I got to talking about putting a cookbook together and spent the next year or so gathering her recipes, and the stories behind them. The result is the new My Father's Daughter. Full of family-oriented, ultra-reliable food, it is a personal cookbook that is authentic to Gwyneth and the way she feeds people. It is also an homage to her late father, the TV and film producer Bruce Paltrow, whom she refers to as "a supreme gourmand." The book was inspired predominantly by "how much joy he derived from feeding people he loved," Gwyneth writes. "I mean genuine, bursting happiness."
Producing the book required long days of brainstorming, grocery shopping, cooking, testing, readjusting, accumulating tall stacks of dirty dishes and writing everything down. Often we were so full in the evening from all of our tasting that we'd open a bottle of something red (at the time, Gwyneth was on a big Oregon Pinot Noir kick) and call it a day. But once, after testing recipes that were on the lighter side, we realized it was late and while we were both wiped out, we were also very hungry. There were a few zucchini in the vegetable bin left over from a failed zucchini bread (one day we'll get it right!), and Gwyneth started reminiscing about the fried zucchini at Elio's, an old-world Italian place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where she used to go with her family when she was growing up. While she was telling me about the restaurant, she put up a pot of water for spaghetti and started slicing the zucchini into coins. She reached for the container of flour, tossing the squash with a shake to get them dry enough to crisp nicely in a pan of olive oil. She finely grated Parmesan cheese and added it to the pasta with a bit of hot, starchy cooking water, forming a creamy sauce to coat the spaghetti. She added a few roughly torn basil leaves to her carefully fried zucchini, finishing the whole thing with just a bit more Parmesan.
A spontaneous dish inspired by nostalgia and cooked with heart, Gwyneth's Fried-Zucchini Spaghetti is emblematic of all of the food in My Father's Daughter. It's sentimental without being sappy; it's tied to her past, but it's got a simplicity that feels of the moment.
Gwyneth took out two forks and handed one of them to me. The pasta never reached our plates—we ate it right out of the serving bowl.
Julia Turshen is working with Jean-Georges and Marja Vongerichten on a TV show and book, The Kimchi Chronicles.