Giada De Laurentiis gives a helping hand to a Canadian cause

Giada De Laurentiis. (Courtesy of Chef's Challenge®: The Ultimate Battle for a Cure)

Giada De Laurentiis. (Courtesy of Chef's Challenge®: The Ultimate Battle for a Cure)

RITA DeMONTIS, National Food Editor, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:58 PM ET

She's petite, personable and passionate about her work, and this Emmy-award winning food superstar, author and spokesperson is coming to Canada to lead one of the biggest fundraising initiatives that draws some of the biggest food names in the industry.

But for all her tiny stature, Giada De Laurentiis is a force to be reckoned with. In Toronto, Ont., this weekend to participate in a special fundraising event, the famous Chef's Challenge: The Ultimate Battle for a Cure, in support of care and research in women's cancers at Mount Sinai Hospital, De Laurentiis says she's looking forward to this challenge - slipping into the same role that attracted such notable culinary celebrities as Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri.

"I actually spoke with Bobby and Guy to get a feel for what this event is all about," said De Laurentiis from her offices in New York City. "And I can tell you - I'm ready, and excited!"

De Laurentiis will be tipping her tuque to such fellow foodies as Mark Mc- Ewan of Top Chef Canada, David Rocco of David Rocco's Dolce Vita, John Catucci of You Gotta Eat Here, Scott McGillivary of Income Property and more. Since its inception in 2010, the Chef's Challenge: The Ultimate Battle for a Cure has raised more than $3 million.

Part of the reason for her involvement is the actual challenge, explains De Laurentiis  "I hear it can get really crazy!" but it's also to pay tribute to a brother she lost to cancer ten years ago. "I lost my brother (Dino) to melanoma and I'm doing this for him, too," adds De Laurentiis, whose famed lineage includes being the granddaughter of the legendary movie mogul Dino De Laurentiis, (whose first career was actually in the food industry) and granddaughter to the famous Italian actress Silvana Mangano.

The Italian-born Giada's love affair with food started as a small child in the family's kitchen in Rome, Italy. Later, the family moved to California, where school included a degree from UCLA in social anthropology  and later training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

The rest as they say is history - multiple cookbooks, television appearances, a regular spot on Food Network and even a children's book series called Recipes for Adventure. She has one of the most detailed and fun food websites in the industry.

"My family is a big part of what I do," says Giada, married to clothing designer Todd Thompson and mother to a little girl. Has motherhood changed her? "I think it has, it certainly has me fighting for things that I believe in, and making me think of my daughter's future and the future of all children. Something as crucial as learning how to eat healthy with what you have on hand."

De Laurentiis says she's "always trying to find new ways to reinvent dishes for my daughter, using new ingredients and putting a healthier twist to the dish, yet still making it delicious."

In fact, healthy eating is her mantra and her message, as reflected in her various cookbooks, including her latest, Giada’s Feel Good Food cookbook.

"Having a child has made me...more aware of of taking care of myself, and other women in my age group. As you get older, you realize you have to take care of your health because you want to be here for your family for a long time."

What's her newest food trend? "I've always relied on citrus to add flavour to food, lemons and grapefruit and now tangerines. Tangerine zest add a sweetness and acidity to a dish, waking up the palette — it's like healthy candy!” Check out Giadadelaurentiis.com for more.

Here are two delicious recipes from her website:


(Giadadelaurentiis.com)

Lemony Shrimp Scampi with Orzo and Arugula

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. (454g) orzo pasta

Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup (75ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Zest of 2 large lemons
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1/2 tsp. (2ml) kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. (2ml) freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 lb. (454g) large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
  • 5 cups (6 oz.) baby arugula

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.

Vinaigrette

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add shrimp, salt and pepper.

Cook until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove shrimp from skillet. Increase heat to high. Add wine and arugula. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up brown bits that cling to bottom of pan. Cook for 1 minute until most of liquid has evaporated and arugula has wilted. Add cooked pasta, cooked shrimp and vinaigrette to skillet. Toss until all ingredients are coated, adding reserve pasta water, if needed, to loosen pasta.

Transfer to a large bowl and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Blueberry-Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • Butter, for greasing the loaf pan
  • 1- 1/2 cups (325ml) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the loaf pan
  • 1 tsp. (5ml) baking soda
  • 1 tsp. (5ml) fine salt
  • 1/2 tsp. (2ml) baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. (2ml) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. (2ml) ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (250ml) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. (10ml) vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and coarsely mashed to yield about 3/4 cup of mashed banana
  • 1 cup (250ml) fresh blueberries

Directions:

Place an oven rack in centre of oven. Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Butter and flour a 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until blended. Stir in bananas and blueberries. Add dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted in centre of loaf comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

Serves 8.

Note: Rolling blueberries in flour before adding to mixture will help keep their shape.


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