It's always an "Ina Garten Girl" summer

Store-bought really is fine, especially during the hottest months of the year

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published August 2, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Ina Garten (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ina Garten (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Since the 2019 advent of the Megan Thee Stallion song "Hot Girl Summer," people have used their own iterations of the phrase to categorize the season a little differently. A "Tony Soprano Summer," for instance, includes robe-wearing, eating cured meats and going to therapy. If one were to have a "Barbie Girl Summer," they might wear pink and smash the patriarchy

Me? At this point in my life, I'd like to have an "Ina Garten Girl" Summer. 

Garten was actually behind another phrase that took on a life of its own; throughout her seasons of "Barefoot Contessa," the Food Network host would occasionally remark that "store-bought is fine" to assure home cooks that they didn't really need to make everything from scratch — even if that's what she was doing in the episode. While Garten was sincere in her delivery, the phrase made its way through the more ironic corners of the internet, until it was eventually imbued with a slightly more snide edge. 

The best example I can give is from a meme that tends to go viral as soon as October 1 hits. It features an image of Garten dressed in a witches hat (from the ninth-season episode "Halloween for Grownups") with the caption: "If you can't summon the flames directly from hell, store-bought is fine." 

I think because of this, there's sometimes perhaps a misconception that Garten's style of eating and entertaining is inaccessible, but inevitably, especially as hot weather descends, she reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. Just a few days ago, Garten posted a recipe on Instagram for her Summer Garden Pasta, which was originally published in her 2006 book "Barefoot Contessa at Home" and developed by her late friend Jean Halberstam

It's incredibly simple: Garten combines chopped garden-fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, good olive oil, garlic and spices in a big glass bowl and allows them to marinate for four hours. Right before serving, she tosses them with a pound of al dente angel hair pasta and a generous flurry of grated parmesan cheese

"Haven't we all done this without a recipe?" one commenter snippily asked.   

But I'd argue that most of Ina Garten's best summer recipes are the ones that don't really require a recipe, like her watermelon mojitos, a simple tomato and avocado salad, orzo with roasted vegetable, and her lemon chicken breasts, all recipes that Garten classified as some of her personal favorites for summer (as well as being her "top clicked" recipes online) in a July post on her website. 

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I think, ultimately, that's the heart of Ina Garten's summer magic — her unique ability to remind me to do the things I should do to embrace the season, but often neglect because of busy schedules and burnout. Things like buying fresh-cut flowers "just because;" or inviting all your gay friends over for dinner; or hosting a beachside birthday party for a dog; or perhaps, as she advised in a recent Instagram post, "playing hooky and reading a good book on the porch in the afternoon." 

Sure, maybe they aren't bespoke flower arrangements from Sag Harbor Florist, Gartens's flower shop of choice, but the Trader Joe's bouquets are looking pretty nice this year, too. So, join me in having an Ina Garten Girl summer where the dinners are easy, the vodka is flowing —and store-bought really is just fine. 


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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