Homemade Podcast Episode 12: Rachael Ray on Family, Fish Sandwiches, and When Disgusting Means Delicious
Oh my gravy! We’re chatting with Rachael Ray.
Rachael Ray can recall her first memory in detail: Reaching for a spatula, she grilled her thumb to a searing griddle. She likes to think that the burn scar foreshadowed her career. But the spunky TV personality, cookbook author, and businesswoman credits her upbringing all the same.
Ray learned to cook at the hip of her Sicilian mother, who managed restaurants in New York’s Capital District and indulged in French cooking at home. Her maternal grandfather, meanwhile, introduced her to classic Italian fare. And no doubt, her Cajun father’s gumbo, gumbo z’herbes, and stews influenced her cooking as well. In fact, she considers jambalaya the first of her “30 Minute Meals.”
Ray and her husband, musician John Cusimano, share these stories and more with host Martie Duncan on this episode of Homemade. The conversation covers Ray’s pet food line, her favorite Italian pasta dishes, and summer zucchini recipes. She also shares the passions that fire her up outside the kitchen, from music to philanthropy. Download it for free at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts beginning August 12th.
Note: Rachael and John spoke to Martie from their home in the Adirondacks in late April of 2020. On August 9th, the Sunday before this episode aired, they had a fire at the house. She and her family escaped unscathed. Rachael tweeted her thanks to local first responders and for messages of concern. She also wrote, "Grateful that my mom, my husband, my dog... we're all okay. These are the days we all have to be grateful for what we have, not what we've lost." We wish them well and are so happy they are safe.
About Rachael Ray
Rachael Ray spent her late 20s and early 30s between New York City and her native Upstate New York, working at Macy's Marketplace, a specialty foods store, a hotel pub, and a gourmet food market. She debuted her signature “30 Minute Meals” on local newscasts and public radio broadcasts before Food Network picked up the concept as a series in 2001.
Within the next five years, she debuted Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine (now Rachael Ray In Season) and the “Rachael Ray” talk show. Rachael Ray Nutrish pet food debuted in 2008. Over the last decade, Ray has appeared on a handful of TV series and added several cookbooks to her repertoire. Her best-selling titles include Rachael Ray 50, Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats, and The Book of Burger.
MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade from Allrecipes. I’m Martie Duncan. Author and passionate cook Pat Conroy once said that a recipe is a story that ends with a good meal. And he’s right. Because there is a backstory behind most great meals. It might be learning to cook with a special family member or cooking for a loved one.
My guest today grew up with food roots in Italy and Cajun country. Rachael Ray really needs no introduction, but I’m gonna give her one anyway. One thing you might not know is that she worked the candy counter at Macy’s in New York City, and she also managed a pub in upstate New York before her big break. Of course, for decades now, she’s been a fixture on our televisions with her namesake "Rachael Ray Show," "30 Minute Meals," and so much more. She also has the Rachael Ray Nutrish pet food line, and that’s one of the first things I asked about when I connected with Rachael and her husband, musician John Cusimano, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine.
RACHAEL RAY Hi. Thank you so much for such a warm introduction. I love Pat Conroy. What a wonderful way to enter our lovely conversation. Welcome to our kitchen.
MARTIE For those of you don't know — Rachael donated $4 million to Relief Efforts for COVID-19. And then her pet food company matched it. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
RACHAEL The pet food company gave 4 million extra meals. About a million dollars.
RACHAEL And since day one, gosh, about 15 years ago now, since we started a brand, John and I wanted to use the proceeds as a vehicle to collect money for philanthropic measures. Because we got married very late in life and we don't have children of our own, our first initiative was based on the needs of American children.
We spent roughly a third of our funds on hunger relief, a third of our funds on lobbying, and pursuing programs for better school food and access to school food programs 12 months a year for kids — because that can be their only nutritious meal of their day. And then a third of our money, we spent on scholarship programs with our partners at National Restaurant Association Educational Fund.
So, that's where it started. And that worked out beautifully. And it became a really lovely vehicle. We didn't have to have fundraisers to throw a lot of parties or put up ads for donations. We just had to make products that we believed in and loved. And it inspired us to do that for animals because we're animal lovers. We have a pit bull. My mother’s rescued countless cats over the decades. And there was a point in this country where the animal food, pet food, was not being monitored in any way. And a lot of families made their pets sick and were killing their own furry family members because the food was toxic.
So, we wanted to start pet food, literally out of need, because we didn't know what to give our own animals in our family. So, that alone has raised over $35 million so far for shelters. So what we did for COVID is split the money between humans and animal relief. But we tried to build a patchwork quilt so that some partners, like Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry, were focusing on replacing school food programs.
RACHAEL Some partners like Feeding America, we wanted our money to be targeted to areas that were servicing seniors. You know, $4 million is nothing in this time. It's a drop in the bucket. But we tried to spread it out as evenly and fairly as possible with large organizations and smaller organizations to really pinpoint rural communities with very poor infrastructure and parts of larger city environments that were being underserved. That was our goal with it. But since day one, that's what we designed our brand to do. And it's really through the support of our customers.
MARTIE Well, I just want to say, I think it's amazing in what you guys have built and what you have done is amazing. And that you do it with a philanthropic heart makes it all the better. So congratulations, and thank you from all of America. Like I said earlier, we think we know you. But I want to ask a couple of, like, kind of rapid-fire questions.
MARTIE Things I'm just curious about and you've probably answered these all a million times. But before we get to the big part of the conversation, I thought I'd be a fun way to start. So what's your favorite condiment?
RACHAEL I don't think I have a favorite condiment. I have a least favorite condiment. I have to make my own mayo. I like, like, vegan mayo. And there's something about shelf-stable eggs that kind of freaks me out. So I love an aioli, but I prefer to make it from scratch. And I love salsa, but we usually make our own salsas.
RACHAEL So, it's a little more work. It's not straight out of the bottle, but I love to mix up my condiments. Like, I make my own barbeque sauce. So I use a lot of Worchestershire and apple cider vinegar.
And I love to make my own special sauce for burgers. So I always have ketchup and sour cream on hand. I use sour cream instead of mayo for mine, so it's a little thicker. And I always have relish in the drawer. I make a lot of deviled eggs.
MARTIE Ooh, me too. I love them.
RACHAEL Deviled ham, deviled chicken, deviled eggs. On and on. So, I use a lot of yellow mustard, Frank's Red Hot. You know? I am a condiment-obsessed kind of gal and I have to say I'm an equal opportunity eater when it comes to condiments.
MARTIE Well, tell me a little bit more about that salsa.
RACHAEL I make guacamole, creamy guacamole, guacamole with crab, guacamole with chipotle. I make like a dozen different guacamoles. The two most popular base salsas though are salsa verde, roasted tomatillos, charred onions, charred garlic, charred poblanos, and jalapenos peeled and whizzed up lime juice and cumin and a little fresh cilantro. And then I make a fire-roasted tomato, chipotle paste red smoky salsa. I think those are the two most popular. Like, the two basics.
I make double batches every time I make them. And I keep them in the freezer — of the cooked salsas. And the other day we divorced chicken or divorced fish. Two sauces on fish that you just bake in the oven. We used halibut. Or you brown chicken in a cast iron skillet and put it up on top of the chicken pieces and put that in the oven to finish cooking it through. So, you have half red and half green. One smoky-spicy, one mild salsa.
MARTIE Ooh nice.
RACHAEL Really yummy.
MARTIE Do you do those — the ones that are not cooked, do you do them in a food processor? Or do you just chop everything?
RACHAEL Guacamole, do it by hand. The cooked ones I process. Yeah. The fire roasted and this salsa verde, I process.
MARTIE All right. What is your favorite bedtime snack? You know, when you can't sleep, what would you go sneak into the kitchen and get?
RACHAEL A glass of wine for me. My husband loves a panini. He loves the late-night panini. I have a little panini press.
MARTIE I see it.
RACHAEL And sometimes he'll literally wake me up and say, "Honey, it may be sandwich time."
MARTIE Time for panini! All right. I want to know this from both of you. What movie will you watch every time it comes on?
RACHAEL Godfather I and II is both of our favorite movies.
RACHAEL What else do you always watch? Oh, he watches Groundhog Day over.
MARTIE Oh, me too.
RACHAEL Groundhog Day...
JOHN And Jaws.
MARTIE No, I can't watch Jaws or otherwise I can't go back to the beach. So I don't watch Jaws. I'm scared to go to the beach.
RACHAEL I love Jaws.
RACHAEL Lawrence of Arabia.
JOHN Lawrence of Arabia.
RACHAEL We watch every time it's on.
MARTIE OK, so no romantic comedies on your list that much.
RACHAEL Uh, yeah.
John Oh yeah.
RACHAEL Defending Your Life.
JOHN Yeah, Defending Your Life is a great one. And Crazy Stupid Love.
RACHAEL And Crazy Stupid Love.
MARTIE Crazy Stupid Love, I love. Yeah, that's a good one.
MARTIE So, when you're in the car, what's the XM channel we might find you listening to? Both of you?
JOHN We haven't been in the car in weeks.
RACHAEL Howard, of course. Of course. Both of us are Howard Stern fans. But music stations, I think Lithium, Classic Vinyl, and Spectrum. And the Beatles station.
MARTIE You're going to find me on Classic Vinyl most of the time.
RACHAEL We have enormous vinyl collection.
MARTIE Oh, I do, too, as well. And I just unpacked mine from the '70s. When I was a teenager, I was a giant collector of vinyl. So I just unpacked all those, and I can't wait to listen to 'em again.
JOHN It's so much more engaging than just putting on an MP3.
RACHAEL We still belong to record clubs. Our record of the month was John Prine.
MARTIE My favorite John Prine song, "Dear Abby." Have you — do you remember that one?
MARTIE He had so many great and prolific and funny. He was so ironic.
RACHAEL Cool and smart.
MARTIE All right, guys. So if, both of you, this question for both of you. If you were forced to sing karaoke, what is your go to song?
JOHN I know yours.
RACHAEL Yeah, "Don't Stop Believin'."
JOHN "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey.
RACHAEL But John has a band, so he doesn't need —
MARTIE That's right.
RACHAEL My favorite cover songs that he does with his band, though — he does an excellent rendition of "The Chain."
MARTIE Oh, my favorite.
RACHAEL They just did that on the show. So you can watch it online, I'm sure. And in an upcoming episode they do David Byrne, one of my favorite artists. Talking Heads. Live, they often close their shows with "I've Got A Feeling" by the Beatles.
MARTIE Love it.
RACHAEL Sings great Zeppelin. They don't do many covers. They do — rarely they do covers because they — how many albums now, of your own music original?
JOHN Five or six?
RACHAEL Yeah. He has so many albums of his own original music. But for his covers he's, he's bold.
JOHN I love doing the "I've Got a Feeling" by the Beatles. I also love doing "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy.
MARTIE Yeah. Thin Lizzy. "Tonight there's going to be a jail..." I love that song.
RACHAEL That's my girl.
JOHN Somewhere in the town.
MARTIE I love that. Oh, yeah. I would have done a much better Stevie Nicks impersonation. I'm not that great on Thin Lizzy, but I do love that song.
RACHAEL I just know, you know who they are. That's cool.
MARTIE I know who everybody is. If it's music, I'm into it. So, a little bit about me: I'm a giant fan of classic rock and '70s music. And my very first job I ever had I was a booking agent. And I booked bands...
MARTIE When I was in high school, we had sororities at my high school, and there were always like dances and lead outs and things like that. So I would book the bands. And so then I would go and check them out. I was their agent. I was 15. I had a motorcycle. I taped them with a cassette recorder.
JOHN Oh, wow.
RACHAEL You were badass!
MARTIE I know.
RACHAEL How many of them did you make out with?
MARTIE I'll never tell. But I've just been a giant music lover my whole life. So last year from my big birthday, I did a bucket list tour. And I went to see as many bands that were out on the road still playing as I possibly could. I saw The Eagles. I saw Fleetwood Mac, Elton John. I saw one of Bob Seeger's last shows. I saw — God, there's just — I can't even remember all of them. I saw so many. But that was so much fun.
RACHAEL You know, we saw last year, that I loved so much, ELO.
MARTIE Oh, I saw ELO, too!
MARTIE I love ELO, one of my favorites of all time. Jeff Lynne.
RACHAEL So fun.
JOHN Such a great, such a great song writer, Jeff Lynne.
RACHAEL Jeff Lynn's amazing. And we were dancing and up on our feet the entire show, and we were with literally teenagers to people in their '60s. And to see the joy on all those different generations of humans...
JOHN Everyone was so happy to be there.
RACHAEL And partying and just loving each other and dancing together. It was so fun.
MARTIE So, if you weren't going to be a cook, Rachael, what would you be?
RACHAEL I would be a rock 'n' roll drummer.
JOHN She's got some rock 'n' roll drummer skills, by the way.
RACHAEL No, I don't. Literally my dream job would be to like fill in for Taylor, for the Foo Fighters, if he's having like a cold or something.
MARTIE You remember when Oprah, with her big bucket list thing was to tour with Tina Turner? That's sort of my thing. Like I want to be a background anything for — I don't even care who it is, just somebody fun, you know?
RACHAEL Just be with the band. Right?
MARTIE Yeah, for sure.
JOHN You know what? When we're all out of this, we can take you on the road with The Fringe, you know?
MARTIE I'll come. I'll absolutely come.
JOHN We're not beyond that right now. You know?
RACHAEL You know, you can help out with the craft service quality.
JOHN They'll cook. You'll sing.
MARTIE All right. What's your favorite pizza topping? Y'all, I know you make a lot of pizzas.
RACHAEL Wow, that's a tough one.
MARTIE Like if you could only have one during this lockdown, what would you pick?
JOHN I have to go with the whole sausage thing.
MARTIE Good idea.
RACHAEL The entire world of sausage, really.
JOHN Anything sausage.
RACHAEL Anything from sopressata to Italian sausage. I have a pizza named after me and I make it for myself when I make pizza. But at the Harvest Restaurant in Queensbury, New York, they have the Rachael Pizza. And since I was 11 years old and Phil, the owner, would let me sit at the bar, which was completely inappropriate, but I loved it. My pizza is peppers and onions — so sweet peppers and onions —- and hot pepper rings.
MARTIE Oh yum.
RACHAEL That is literally my pizza.
MARTIE All right. So, Rachael, you've talked a lot about growing up in food, and one of your first memories, watching your mom in a restaurant kitchen. Our listeners would love to hear more about growing up in a family with so many good cooks in the kitchen. And the one big thing, I think, your influences from your Italian and your Louisiana roots.
RACHAEL Well, my mom's 85, and she worked in restaurants for 60 years.
RACHAEL And when I was a little girl, my first memory was being on her hip and she had turned on the flat top, the griddle. And she was fighting with one of the purveyors and phones had cords then. So the part you're talking to was attached to that was on the wall.
RACHAEL She had gotten so whipped up, she was spinning around and around in a circle. And so she had to unwind and put me down because I was on her hip.
RACHAEL She went to hang up the phone. I reached up to grab at a spatula, to mimic her because she's always in the kitchen, and I grilled my thumb to the griddle.
RACHAEL And that's my first memory in life, is that. People, of course, can't see it, 'cause this is audio, but the scar on my thumb is kind of like my Harry Potter stamp for what would come.
And when I was even younger than that, when I was at home, my first caretaker was my grandfather. And my grandpa had 10 children. My mom was the first born, the eldest child. And her responsibility was to help Grandpa. And his primary responsibility was growing the food. And he was the cook of the family. My grandmother was the seamstress and the baker. And Grandpa also worked 80 to 100 hours a week as a stonemason.
RACHAEL So he would tend his garden literally by moonlight. And he would process and make all the food and then put it into his big wood-burning oven when he'd go to work and pull it out when he'd come home to check on the kids. And then he'd go back to work. I mean, he was an amazing man and he was my best friend when I was little. He was my nanny, really. He was the child caregiver, you know?
MARTIE Isn't that amazing? I never got to meet any grandparents. It's so amazing that you have that legacy and that memory. What is one of your favorite dishes that your grandfather would make that you still make?
RACHAEL Everything with fish that I make. I's very funny because my mother, she doesn't mind anchovies melted into oil, but she really doesn't like fish the way I like seafood. Grandpa would play cards with the Runzo boys, and I would sit on his lap and they played Tressette, three sevens, or Scopa, which mean "to sweep". It's a card game too.
I'd sit on his lap and he'd play cards with the Runzo boys, and we'd have sardine sandwiches with onions. And I loved sardine sandwiches with onions, and I love spaghetti aglio e olio with tons of anchovies melted into spaghetti. I love sardine spaghetti. I love puttanesca sauce, of course. All of those dishes remind me of him, because that's part of the time that we shared together. And I write about that in my last book. I wrote a book when I turned 50 and there's a...
MARTIE Yeah, I have it. It's a great book.
RACHAEL Thank you. There's a chapter called "Sardine Sandwiches Don't Make You Friends." So my first day at school, I took a book. The teacher took it away because the other children didn't know how to read yet. And they took away my sardine sandwich.
RACHAEL It was in a bag at lunch and I took it out of the bag and everybody made fun of me because it smelled. I went home hysterical crying. And my grandfather basically made fun of me and said, "You have 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a brain." He made me count my fingers, count my toes. He knocked on my head and said, "What's in there?" I said, "My brain". He said, "Well, you have 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a brain. What are you crying about?" And that's an important lesson to learn in life. To, you know, save your tears for when times truly deserve it.
MARTIE When you really need them. That's right. Like now, so many people are upset about having to be at home. And I mean, I can see why if, especially, if they've lost their jobs. That makes a lot of sense to me. But I hear a lot of people kind of whining about having to be at home. And to me, I think it's almost a little bit of a blessing because I'm doing so many things that I never get to do.
RACHAEL You have to try and make it into a blessing. I think blessings don't just happen. I'm sure some do by fortune or divinity or good juju in the universe or karma or whatever.
But I think a lot of blessings — you can also kind of make a fertile environment for them. Wake up with a positive attitude, challenge yourself to do something that you've never done before. Look at things in a slightly different way, and try and find something to be grateful for as early as you can in your day, every day.
RACHAEL I think that that's essential. When I get up, no matter how I feel or what the weather is. But to find something to be truly grateful for in that first part of the day, a moment that wouldn't have happened. Something you can notice or feel or someone you can call or reach out to or write a note to. Something positive that you can start your day with. That's what I mean by you kind of have to make your own blessings.
MARTIE Yeah. Does make a fertile place for blessings to grow. Yeah. It sounds like you got a lot of that from your grandfather. So I know that you have some Cajun roots, also.
RACHAEL My daddy's from Louisiana, and he can just burst out in Cajun and Creole accents, like heavy, deep. I have no idea what he's saying. But the funny thing about my folks is my mom is Sicilian and daddy's Cajun Creole. So strangely enough, those cuisines pretty much match up. It's a whole lot of spice, and the personalities certainly match up. Theirs didn't. They've been divorced many, many decades now. But in general, you know, a lot of laughing, a lot of food, volatile personalities. They're not quiet groups of people.
MARTIE No. And the shocking thing about Louisiana, to me, is that there's not anybody in Louisiana that doesn't cook. They're all good cooks. Every family's got a lot of good cooks. Just like Italians.
RACHAEL And the same in Italy. It's not the woman's job. It's everybody's job. And when you look at a lot of the world's great chefs are all men. It's so funny to me because the responsibility in the American mindset is that cooking was the woman's place. You know? That's just not true in so many pockets of the country, in so many cultures.
RACHAEL Everybody learns to cook. They take it seriously. From where my daddy comes from and my mom, cooking is respected and expected from everyone. Every man and woman learns how to cook their cultural roots. My dad makes great gumbo and stews and gumbo z’herbes.
MARTIE Oh, that's my favorite. I love gumbo z’herbes. Now, what's your favorite dish to make that you learned or influenced from your father?
RACHAEL I think I agree with you, the wash day gumbo z’herbes. But I love every gumbo and jambalaya. And in one of the very first — the first 30 Minute Meal — and I made it on the radio, not on a TV show, that I did outside of a grocery store was for public radio, and I was making “Jambalika,” a 30-minute jambalaya in the studio.
But my friend Joe, he said, "My guest canceled. Please!" And I just worked at Cowan & Lobel the market where he buys his food. He’s like, "Please come over and make something." I said, "It's radio. Nobody can see what I'm cooking. What are you talking about? And what am I going to cook on? The turntable?" He's like, "We have a hotplate." I said "Do you know how illegal that is? You're in a recording booth, for God's sake." "Please! Please!"
So I went over, and thankfully, the fire department didn't have to come.
MARTIE Didn't show up. So you've been making recipes with like unique names ever since you started. That wasn't a new thing for you, jambalika.
RACHAEL No. Yeah. Well, I married a man who's very punny too. We appreciate a pun. And my dad was always that guy. He still is. He's the guy who's always got some silly, goofy...
MARTIE My dad did too, Rachael. And still, some of the things that he used to say just crack me up. Even now, he's been gone since September, but some of those are just so funny. And they're probably not funny to anybody but me. So, what are the dishes that your mom taught you to make, were they all restaurant-inspired dishes?
RACHAEL No, no, no. What we cooked at home. My mom loves French food. So we made a lot of Jacques Pépin, Pierre Franey, Julia Child. We would watch "The Galloping Gourmet," the wonderful Graham Kerr.
And my grandpa made all the classic Italian fare, big roast fish or giant pans of mixed seafood in the oven with garlic. All the traditional pastas. We grew up with all'amatriciana, pasta alla Norma, puttanesca, aglio e olio. Blah, blah, blah.
I actually ended up with quite a well-rounded base in food because my mother was obsessed with French food and my grandfather was a 70-something-year-old Italian.
MARTIE We'll have more with Rachael Ray and her husband, musician John Cusimano, right after the break.
Welcome back to homemade. I'm talking to Rachael Ray.
Rach, right now everybody is cooking more than they ever have. And recipe websites like your website and Allrecipes.com, they're so busy because people are cooking a lot for the first time. What advice do you have for beginning cooks who want to be successful in the kitchen?
RACHAEL Everything that comes into the house, especially now, gets processed immediately. If the vegetable can be blanched, I blanch it and freeze it so I always have fresh vegetables. All produce goes into the kitchen sink. I fill the sink up and let it soak. I clean the leeks. I clean the carrots, peel them, trim everything, and put it away clean, and you'll use more of it.
I portion all of the chicken, seafood, meat. We work in base-four here because I cook for my mom and my sister, who are close by. And for us. So I put things away in fours. But if you put them away in ones, twos, fours — however many people you're feeding, I pre-portion everything, get the air out of the bag and get it in the freezer and mark it.
I keep a freezer list. Every single thing that I make ahead and put in a freezer I keep track of when I use it I "X" it off, so I always have an inventory.
MARTIE I learned that from you. When my dad really needed me to cook for him, when he was getting a little, you know, hard for him to get around, I was cooking for him a couple, two or three times a week. But what I learned from you was to portion everything off.
Get a fish ready or whatever. Put it on a flat surface, freeze it. And then when you go to cook it, it's so much faster. You have your veg ready. You have your fish ready. And you can go a lot faster. And cooking's not a chore because everything's already ready.
RACHAEL I also think if you've never cooked in your life or you don't cook often, it's important to put yourself in a good mood. Whether that's a cup of tea or a glass of wine or a cocktail. Or put on your favorite music. Or you love the gentle hum of "Law & Order," I don't care. But you should put yourself in a good mood. If you walk into the kitchen grumpy, your food's going to taste terrible. Period.
MARTIE If you feel like it's a chore. I love that you've got the kitchen towel in your kitchen that says that's your happy place.
RACHAEL Oh yeah. A friend of mine gave that to me a million years ago. It's falling apart. I swear I keep it clean. It's just old.
MARTIE But I think it really is your happy place.
RACHAEL The place where I feel most comforted. You know, I think that that's why kitchens are so magic to me. I remember my grandfather. I remember different generations. I remember what it was like as a girl discovering the magic of a kitchen.
And it's so important, I think, to get kids — no matter if they grow up to be rocket scientists or the next José Andrés — into the kitchen because it's such a great, peaceful thing to be able to feed your soul and other people.
Cooking is about more than just the meal. It's about what it does for you emotionally. And seeing something transform from a pile of ingredients into this whole other thing is fun and magical. But to just know that you can provide for yourself and the people you care about, there is a great sense of self well-being and being able to provide for people that is very gratifying on many, many levels.
MARTIE I have a great quote from you. You said, "When you're cooking and feeding people, it's nourishment way beyond the food."
RACHAEL And that's the truth. It feeds my soul more so than anything else.
MARTIE Well, I think for me, the greatest gift I ever was able to give to my dad was cooking meals for him that I know he enjoyed when he was later in his life. He really couldn't do it for himself. And I'd make a plate and put plastic wrap over it and put it in the fridge and I'd call him from the road or wherever I was. I'm like, "Hey, Daddy, how is that fish?" And he would say, "Oh, I loved it." You know, it just made me so happy to know that I could do that for him.
RACHAEL It's the biggest of things. We feed my mom every day. And if she doesn't call and tell me — I'll tell you her funny expression for how to describe something as being delicious. If she doesn't call, I get very upset. I'm like, "Oh, my God, she didn't like it!"
And I'll call her when I'm done cleaning. And I'll be like, "Mama, didn't you like it? Didn't you like your dinner?" She's like, "Honey, I thought you were working. I just didn't want to disturb you. It was disgusting," and that's how my mother describes delicious. She goes, "Well that was disgusting." And if my mother doesn't say it's disgusting, she didn't like it very much.
MARTIE And you like cooking with as much fresh produce as possible. Are you growing a garden? If you are, or if you're not, what summer produce are you looking forward to cooking?
RACHAEL My husband buys all of our seed from an Italian seed company.
RACHAEL Italianseedsandtools.com. So we have San Marzano tomatoes and little cherry tomatoes. We grow tons of flat kale. Kale grows here through November. Peppers grow real well here. Green beans grow really well here. Fava beans have had good years and not so good years here. Celery grows great for us.
MARTIE Really? I couldn't grow it if I had to. I couldn't possibly grow celery.
RACHAEL Celery grows really well for us. Leeks do great. All the onion family does really well. We have trouble with asparagus. Haven't been able to get that up and running yet, but they say sometimes it takes four or five years to get that to work out for you.
MARTIE What are you most looking forward to making? Like, what's your favorite go-to thing that you want to make every summer?
RACHAEL We make tons of fresh gazpachos and salsa and things with the tomatoes. As well as just fresh cherry tomato versions of puttanesca, amatriciana, or any of the basic tomato-basil sauces, on and on. We make zucchini everything. Stuffed zucchini, stuffed zucchini flowers, bolognese-style zucchini pasta with saffron broth and cream.
MARTIE Ooh, that sounds delicious. Walk me through that one real quick. Can you?
RACHAEL Yeah, sure, of course. You start with guanciale, pancetta, or bacon. Small dice. Let it sweat in the pan. Add your zucchini. Let the zucchini start to brown. You can do a dice or a little 1-inch scoop out the center of it if it feels seedy.
MARTIE Yeah. A lot of water, right?
RACHAEL Right, it feels like it's got a lot of seed to it. Scrape out middle first. I get the zucchini going. I bloom a fat pinch of saffron in stock to the zucchini. If I have ramps or leeks, I may add a little onion to it. It's unnecessary. I add flake and lots of garlic. And then I add the bloomed stock to it and add a touch of cream. It's very traditional in sort of that middle to northern Italian arena area there. And I like to put a little fennel pollen in mine or a little fennel salts that I make with lemon and orange peel that I have on the counter here that my friend at La Boite mixes up for me.
MARTIE I hear you talk about it sometimes, and I've never tried it. I'm encouraged now to try it.
RACHAEL It's a light, bright, floral, almost citrusy flavor. It's licorice and citrus kind of married together. So I put a little sprinkle of fennel and citrus, fresh or dried, doesn't matter into it. But basically, it's saffron stock, married with a little cream, creme fresh or even half and half, married with zucchini and garlic and chili flake.
MARTIE I'm gonna try that immediately. I've got a lot of zucchini growing in my garden, so I can't wait for that.
RACHAEL You're lucky, you can have a garden now.
MARTIE Oh yeah. Some of my tomato plants are pretty big already. I mean, we're 70-degree days now, and it won't be long before it'll be 80.
RACHAEL Oh, I love green tomato season, too.
RACHAEL Wooo! I love fried greens tomatoes.
MARTIE We do too.
RACHAEL Love, love, love, love, love.
MARTIE Yeah, and okra. And a lot of people don't like okra. I know Italians like okra.
RACHAEL I love pickled okra. I love fried okra. The only thing I don't really like is, like, mushed...
RACHAEL Right, if you let it cook too long and it gets kind of snotty looking. I don't...
MARTIE No, I hate it. No, I hate it.
RACHAEL I don't really like cooked vegetables in general, so. But. I love pickled okra. And I super love fried okra.
MARTIE Oh, me too. We used to fight over it like candy. My mother never made enough. I absolutely adore fried okra. I grew a big batch of it. So it won't be long.
Rachael, I know this is like asking you to pick your favorite child or dog, as it were, but you've written how many cookbooks, 20-something cookbooks?
MARTIE Twenty-six cookbooks. Which one is your favorite and why? And I think I know the answer, but — because we talked about it a minute ago.
RACHAEL Well, 50, for sure.
MARTIE Yeah, because it has all the stories.
RACHAEL Because it's the first time I sat down to write essays and stories and not just recipes.
MARTIE I loved it. I think it's a great book, and I love the stories.
RACHAEL Thank you.
MARTIE Because that's what makes the food so special, is knowing where it came from.
RACHAEL I worked really hard on it and I tried to only be positive and give people things to make them feel better and to show my gratitude for the life I've had in my first 50 years. It was a gratitude project, really, was how it started.
MARTIE I love that.
RACHAEL But I tried to make it funny and relatable and to share with people. All the awkward moments. And not everything always works out perfect. And I try to keep it real but keep it positive in its message. Because that's the way I feel about my life. I'm just so deeply, deeply, deeply grateful.
MARTIE So, Rachael, do you have a bucket list? Like, is there something that you've marked off that you're really happy about? And what is one thing you still want to accomplish?
RACHAEL Well, I have a lot of things I've only half accomplished, like just coming up here. I thought, well, it'll be a lot of quiet time. I can become an accomplished painter to some extent. And my husband bought me all these easels and paints and things. Haven't opened them because all I'm doing is working. I bought from my favorite bookstore, The Strand, ten new books that I wanted to read that were on my list. Not there, haven't done it. I wanted to go into John's studio and practice and try and master the drums.
Quite honestly, it's kind of life is normal. I'm writing and cooking. I have done a lot of things that were surprisingly relaxing and happy for me, like jumping out of airplanes. I love and I would do it every day if I could.
RACHAEL I could do it every single day.
MARTIE No, no, no. I'm not jumping out of any planes. I'll let you have that one.
RACHAEL I love it, love it. Love, love, love it.
MARTIE Oh my gosh, that is — that's amazing. I had no idea.
RACHAEL I love it.
MARTIE All right. So, Rachael, I want to know this from you and from John. What is your guilty pleasure? The thing you sneak to get, that you can't wait —- like, mine’s ice cream. I'm gonna have ice cream.
RACHAEL We don't really feel guilty about food. I don't think?
MARTIE It doesn't have to be food, though. It could be a thing.
RACHAEL I don't feel guilty about the stuff that makes me happy, but I guess other people would say, like, my guilty pleasures are, like, Tom Jones.
RACHAEL And Abba. Yeah. Tom Jones was my first crush. When I was a little girl, I hated wearing dresses.
MARTIE Me too.
RACHAEL The only thing I put on a dress for was the Tom Jones show because I thought Tom could see me.
MARTIE I love that. Oh, my God. I love Tom Jones. I've got his albums. One of my albums in my collection. I bought my very first album I bought was a Tom Jones album. "This is Tom Jones."
RACHAEL Dude, I have that album.
MARTIE "Why, why, why, Delilah...."
RACHAEL The first song I learned every word to. I'm not even kidding. Do you know how inappropriate it is for, like, a five-year-old little girl to wander around singing the most misogynistic song in the history of music about how Delilah cheated on Tom. He stabbed her, and it was her fault. Why did she do it to him? That was the first song I learned all the words to. Not "Wheels on the Bus." "Delilah."
MARTIE "Delilah." I love it. That's awesome.
RACHAEL My grandpa would take — I call it the blueberry chair, but it was really your chair with blue roses on it. I called it the blueberry chair and he turned his blueberry chair backwards, and he would watch me instead of Tom Jones because I would stand in the middle, put on my dress, dance with Tom, and try and sing along with him to whatever he was doing. And for my grandpa, I was the show for the Tom Jones show.
MARTIE Oh, how fun. For me, it was the Osmond Brothers.
RACHAEL Oh, Donny's such a sweetheart. And then Tom Jones came to our house for Rabbit Cacciatore because rabbit’s his favorite. And John, sitting in the kitchen, or standing in the kitchen next to me, goes, "Can you stop bringing your crushes home to our apartment?"
JOHN It's not fair. I don't get to bring Salma Hayek home to our apartment. So why do you get to bring Tom Jones home to our apartment?
MARTIE Yes, because, what — every man loves Tom Jones, too.
JOHN Of course, I love his music, but...
RACHAEL But this is so funny. So the other day, just two days ago?
RACHAEL Two days ago in this kitchen on Zoom, Curtis Jackson, 50, was my interview. And he is my current like hugest of hugest celebrity crush. So, John has to literally — I'm sorry honey.
JOHN I get nothing.
RACHAEL I'm so sorry. It's so embarrassing. And John...
MARTIE I think it's awesome.
RACHAEL And John made cocktails with his brand of champagne and cognac. And we were toasting him, drinking his liquor at John's house.
JOHN We need to get Penelope Cruz on this thing tomorrow.
RACHAEL John needs some face time with some of his crushes. But Curtis, listen, I'm half-joking. I just have tremendous respect for him, and he's always been so kind to us. And he was supposed to be closing act out this year. Our guest at South by Southwest. He was our closer.
RACHAEL Curtis is a very mindful person. He's brilliant. And he's always been so kind to us as a brand and a show, and he was supporting us at South by — so it was great to have him here at home with us.
MARTIE Rachael and John, thank you so much for being on the Homemade podcast. And we have love getting to know a little bit about you. Thank you for welcoming us into your kitchen and into your lives. And again, thank you so much for all you've done for America with your generous, generous donation for the COVID-19 response. So, thank you again.
RACHAEL Thank you for having us. It was so much fun.
MARTIE Rachael’s latest book is called Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals from a Sweet and Savory Life. Her website is RachaelRay.com. That’s RachaelRay.com, and she’s on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Look for her magazine Rachael Ray In Season on newsstands everywhere.
If this is the first time you’ve listened to the Homemade podcast, we have got so many other great interviews for you! Look back through the playlist and you’ll find conversations with Guy Fieri, Carla Hall, Ms. Patti LaBelle, Chef John, Justin Warner, and so many more. There's just so much culinary wisdom and tips packed into each episode.
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This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.
Homemade is produced by Allrecipes with Executive Editor Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Tanya Ott, and Maya Kroth.
Thanks for listening! I’m Martie Duncan, and this is Homemade.