|POTS & PANS →
|OVENWARE & BAKEWARE →
|BUY IN CHINA / HK →
An enormous amount of different kinds of kitchen equipment is available now, in shops and online. With time, you’ll learn what your preferences are and they’ll depend on what types of food you like to cook as some equipment is suited to specific foods and cooking methods. Each person’s requirements are unique: the way a handle fits in your hand, the length of knife you’re most comfortable with, and the weight and size of equipment that’s best for you and your family. Keep this in mind when you read this section. I have tried to choose general equipment which should appeal to most people but it’s always better to try the equipment in a shop if you can and see how the weight, size, length, or contours of the equipment suit you. Photos curtesy of Amazon.
POTS AND PANS
How to Buy:
Choosing and buying the right pots and pans will make it easier for you to produce great food.
4 factors to consider:
Material: The main determinant for buying the right equipment is the material (more on this below), its weight and versatility (safe for the oven, stove top (hob) and grill/broiler). Generally you want rapid and even heat distribution (to avoid parts of the pan burning the food) and materials that are easy to clean and maintain.
Edges: Rolled edges make it easier to pour.
Handles: Handles that are long and stay cool are preferable, except if you are looking for a large pan which also needs to fit in the oven. Look for handles that are strong and connected firmly to the pan. They should fit well in your hand and be comfortable. A hole at the end of the handle is helpful if you’re going to hang the pan or if you want to poach something or put in a bag of herbs and tie it to the pot.
Lids: Lids should give a tight seal so that steam doesn’t escape or drip down the sides. Lid handles should stay cool.
TYPES OF POTS AND PANS
Dutch oven /Braising pan/Casserole (Casseruòla)
Best for: Braising and stewing.
How to buy: This is a shallow, wide, usually straight-sided pan with a heavy bottom and an oven-proof lid. Casseroles come in all different sizes but ideally are made of a heavy material that slowly conducts heat but retains the heat and moisture for as long as possible. They can be oval or round; the oval shape makes more efficient use of oven space, while round ones can accommodate larger pieces of meat and larger quantities of food. The contents should just fit inside the pan so that as little liquid as possible is used to braise the meat or vegetables. The lid should be tight-fitting so that steam does not escape and condensation falls back into the pot. The handles should be firmly attached and easy to grab (particularly as the pot is heavy) but fit easily into the oven. These pots come in copper, stainless steel, cast iron, enamelled cast iron, glass, and earthenware.
I have two. One is a heavy-bottomed copper pan lined with tin, which is better for searing first and baking afterwards and which I also use for soups. My favourite is the Le Creuset enamelled cast iron Dutch oven that I use for braising. Glass or earthenware casseroles are also good but cannot be used on the stove top (hob).
Why buy one? Also most other types of metal pots will conduct heat too quickly so that it will be difficult to keep the food on a constant low heat on the stove and the food may scorch. You can try to use a diffuser to slow down the conductivity. Otherwise you can use an earthenware pot instead but should cover with a layer of aluminium foil before adding the lid to ensure the steam doesn’t escape. If you use an earthenware pot but if you want to sear the food first you will need to do that in another pan and then add it to the earthenware pot. Metal braising pots have the advantage of not being temperature sensitive so can go from hot to cold and can brown food first on the stove top (hob) top.
How to use it: For braising, meats may or may not be browned first and then are slowly cooked on low heat with little liquid covering about one third of the meat and a tightly fitting lid. For stewing, the method is similar but the meat is cut up into small pieces and requires more liquid.
Frying pan/Skillet/Omelette pan (Padella)
Best for: This pan is used to fry, sear, or brown foods or reduce sauces. Pan frying uses hot fat to sear the food’s surface, making the outside crisp and keeping the inside juicy. Pan-frying is great for potatoes, grilled sandwiches, browning meat, eggs, omelettes, veal cutlets, etc.
How to buy: A frying pan has low flared sides with a long handle and no lid. Look for a large cooking surface circumference (20-30cm/8-12 inches) so it can hold food in one layer without touching and maximise the surface for cooking. I have three: one 20cm non-stick titanium Scanpan for omelettes and eggs, a 30cm non-stick titanium Scanpan for frying, and a 30cm cast iron for frying (particularly for food I don’t need to turn by flipping the pan). They should have a long handle – preferably one that does not get hot – and should be firmly attached to the pan so you can flip foods if needed. The handle should feel comfortable in your hands. Look for pans which have a good distribution of weight between the pan and the handle. Buy one that is not so thin the food scorches or so thick so that it is not responsive to changes in temperature. Non-stick frying pans are good because the food doesn’t stick and you can cook with less fat. I prefer the ceramic non-stick coating as it is more durable. Frying pans come in stainless steel, anodized aluminium, cast iron, titanium, and multi-layer stainless steel. I would buy any of these except stainless steel that is not multi-layered. Cast iron frying pans are perfect for frying meat or anything you want to add flavour to but do not need to flip because cast iron is quite heavy; cast iron also reacts with acid. They improve with age and use, and last forever.
Why buy one? For pan-frying, a sauté pan will not let liquids evaporate quickly enough for the food to brown evenly. A wok’s surface is not ideal for frying large pieces of food which need to brown evenly.
How to use: Frying uses more fat than sautéing and the food is cooked faster at high temperatures and typically turned to brown on all sides. In frying, the food is cooked more by the fat than by contact with the pan.
Best for: Sauces, simmering, and poaching.
How to buy: Saucepans have tall, straight or slightly flared sides, a long handle, and a lid. There are also saucepans with a rounded bottom (saucier) which is convenient for custards, poaching, braising etc. where you need to ensure that no food sticks in the corners of the pan. These pots also enable you to use as little liquid as possible. Look for one which is light, with a larger diameter and a lip. The handle should fit comfortably in your hand and should not get hot. Choose one made from multi-layered metals, titanium, anodised aluminium, or copper. A non-stick surface is not necessary. It is a good idea to have 2 or 3 of these in different sizes, but get at least one 4.5-litre pan. I have 3 saucepans (1.4 litre, 2.5 litre, and 4.5 litre), and a 4.5 litre saucier.
Why buy one? Saucepans are used for making sauces when you don’t want to brown the food, don’t want the liquid to evaporate too quickly, and when you want the ingredients to be covered with as little liquid as possible. In a wok, sauté pan, frying pan, or large pot the surface area is too large so the liquid will evaporate too quickly – and if you fill the vessel with liquid to cover the food, there will be too much liquid and it will dilute the flavour.
How to use it: For making sauces, liquids can be cooked together or food may be browned first before the liquids are added. For poaching, liquids are usually infused with aromatics before the temperature is reduced and the food is placed in them to be gently poached.
Sauté pan (Sautéuse/Sautoir/Casseruòla bassa)
Best for: Sautéing, simmering, blanching, and shallow poaching.
How to buy: These come in copper, cast iron, aluminium, stainless steel, titanium, enamelled cast iron, and multi-layered materials. They should have a large circumference so they can hold food in one layer and maximise the surface for cooking. I typically use a 26cm sauté pan. Buy one that is not too thin (the food may scorch) or so thick so that it is unresponsive to changes in temperature. The low, straight-edged or slightly rounded sides let steam evaporate more quickly so the food browns, cooks evenly, and does not jump out when the pan is flicked. You want a long, sturdy handle which doesn’t get hot and is well connected to the pan. Sometimes they come with two loop handles and this is better if you have a lot of dishes which start on the stove top (hob) and finish in the oven. Sauté pans come with a lid.
Why buy one? You can use a wok or a frying pan, which will brown the food easily but may dry it out. Sautéing involves more moisture than frying. If you use a wok it may have the same scorching effect as the frying pan, particularly when cooking something for a relatively long time.
How to use: To sauté, use a small amount of fat to brown the food and cook over medium to high heat while moving the food around. One technique is to hold the pan by the handle and using a sharp movement with the arm to flip the food up in the pan. The food is cooked more by contact with the pan than by the oil or liquid.
Best for: Making stock, broth, soup, and preserves. Deep-frying, steaming, preserving, boiling pasta, and simmering. It is also handy for steaming large items of food.
How to buy: The stock pot should be taller than it is wide with straight sides, a lid, and two loop handles. Look for a wide one so you can move the food around in the pot and clean it more easily. A thick bottom is best, particularly if you will be sautéing or frying in the pan first. Look for firmly attached handles which extend sufficiently far from the pot that you can comfortably pick it up when it is full (and therefore very heavy and hot). A capacity of 13-15 litres should be sufficient for most purposes.
Why buy one? If you want to make soup or broth or cook items in bulk then this pot is indispensable. Since the pot is taller than it is wide, the liquid does not evaporate as quickly. For steaming, as long as the item is small enough to fit into a bamboo steamer, this is fine. For large items you will need a stockpot with a steamer inserted.
How to use it: For stock, add meat, bones, vegetables and aromatics. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. To steam, add water to the bottom of the pot so it doesn’t touch the bottom of the steamer; bring to the boil. Add the food you’re steaming and tightly fit the lid and heat. To deep-fry food, use shallower pot so you can easily scoop the food out and don’t need to use too much fat. Add enough fat to submerge the food completely. Heat the fat to the desired temperature (you can use a deep-frying thermometer) and add the food so that it can fry in a single layer.
Bain-Marie/Double boiler (Bagnomaría)
Best for: The bain-marie enables you to cook ingredients gently without bringing them into direct contact with your heat source. The food is cooked over – not in – boiling water. The simplest version is a wide bowl placed over a pan of boiling water so the steam can’t escape. Bain-maries are also manufactured by saucepan producers. Melting chocolate or cheese, making custard or zabaglione, whipping eggs with sugar, etc. It is excellent for cooking sauces containing egg where the temperature needs to remain below boiling, or for reheating sauces.
How to buy: The bain-marie has two straight-sided pans, one of which nests inside the other. It comes with a lid and a long handle. Look for handles which stay cool and fit comfortably in your hand. A rounded bowl for the top part of the pot is better to ensure that all the food gets evenly mixed. Look for pots that don’t have crevices which are difficult to clean. The pots can be made from copper, stainless steel, multi-layered, or aluminium. The top chamber can also be made out of porcelain.
Why buy one? If you are doing a lot of sauce or dessert making, it’s worth investing in a bain-marie as it offers a more stable, easier to hold alternative to the bowl over water.
How to use it: Pour water into the bottom pan (the depth will vary according to your recipe or pan) and place on the stove top (hob) over medium heat. When the water boils, place your food in the top portion of the pan as directed by the recipe and place on top of the bottom part of the bain-marie.
Couscoussier (Pentola per couscous)
Best for: Couscous.
How to buy: A couscousier is a pot with a steamer compartment on top and a lid. The couscous goes in the top of the pot. The food cooks in the bottom and produces steam which rises to the top, cooking and flavouring the couscous above. They are typically made of stainless steel or aluminium.
Why buy one? I don’t eat a lot of couscous, so I don’t really need one. You can substitute by lining a footed metal colander or wire basket with cheesecloth and placing it inside a covered stock pot with water to steam. If you use a wire basket instead of a colander you will need a steamer insert as well to keep it out of the water. Alternatively you can rest the colander on top of a pot with the stew and seal it with aluminium foil.
How to use it: Prepare the stew on the bottom of the couscousier, fill the top compartment with couscous, cover with the lid, and cook.
Espresso maker (Caffettièra Napoletana or Caffettièra espresso/Moka/Macchinetta)
Best for: Making coffee
How to buy: These come in various metals, especially stainless steel, tin or aluminium, and sometimes in terracotta. They are taller than they are wide and can be cylindrical or conical. The base holds the water which, when heated, pushes steam up through the middle chamber holding the coffee and filter, to the top chamber which holds the finished coffee. There are two types of Italian stove top (hob) top coffee makers:
Caffettièra Napoletana: The Napoletana has two chambers, one on top and one on bottom, separated by a filter which holds the coffee grinds.
Caffettièra espresso/Moka/Macchinetta: The Moka has two chambers as well but the bottom chamber is much smaller than the top chamber. The two chambers are also separated by a filter filled with coffee.
Why buy one? It is easier to use and clean than an espresso machine and makes better coffee than drip coffee or coffee made in a coffee press. Espresso from a Moka can sometimes be better than one made from an espresso machine. Clean only with water.
How to use:
Caffettièra Napoletana: Unscrew the top and remove the filter. Water is poured into the bottom chamber up to the middle of the inner valve and the filter is placed on top and coffee is spooned into the filter to form a mound. Do not press down the coffee before screwing on the top. Bring the water to a boil over a low flame. The Napoletana is then removed from the heat and turned over to pass the water through the coffee grinds. People who like strong coffee might repeat this process a few times.
Caffettièra espresso/Moka/Macchinetta: Unscrew the top and remove the filter. Water (ideally, soft or filtered) is poured in the bottom chamber up to the middle of the inner valve; the filter is placed on top and the coffee is spooned into the filter to form a mound. Do not press down the coffee before screwing on the top. Bring the water to a boil over a low flame until the pressure forces the water up through the coffee grinds into the top chamber. When this process begins and the water can be heard bubbling, the machine is removed from the stove top.
Fish kettle/Fish steamer (Pescièra/Pesciaiòla)
Best for: Poaching or steaming fish
How to buy: Look for one which is long, deep, and narrow with straight sides. It should have a lid, 2 loop handles, and a wire rack for holding the fish. Buy one long enough to fit the types of fish you plan to cook. Some have two racks, one which sits lower in the pan for poaching and one which sits higher for steaming. The pan can be made from anodised aluminium, stainless steel, or copper.
Why buy one? If you want to poach a large whole fish then this pot is essential: having the same shape as the fish, it minimises the liquid required (which helps preserve flavour) and allows you to present a whole fish at the table. The rack makes it easy to remove the fish from the pan, keeping it whole and presentable.
How to use it: To poach the fish, create your aromatic poaching liquid, cover with the lid, and bring to the desired temperature. Place the fish on the low rack and lower it in. To steam the fish, add water to the bottom of the pan but do not let it touch the rack. Add the tall rack with the fish, cover with the lid and heat.
Griddle pan (Testo/Ferro)
How to buy: Look for a griddle pan which is light weight and retains heat well. Griddles can be round, 10-60cm in diameter, and have a single long handle, or rectangular, 25-45cm in size, and have heat-resistant loop-shaped handles. Both designs usually have a spout to pour off excess fat. Non-stick finishes are helpful. The round ones come in cast iron, ceramic cast aluminium, anodized aluminium, terracotta, and stoneware, whereas the rectangular ones are usually only made of metal. I would probably buy a rectangular anodized aluminium or cast iron. I currently use two cast-iron crèpe pans I have at home which work well.
Why buy one? It’s not entirely necessary if you have a large frying pan which heats evenly. It is easier to turn food on a griddle as there are no sides.
How to use it: Heat the pan and then griddle the bread as required in the recipe.
Grill pan (Bistecchiera/Griglia)
Best for: Indoor grilling of meat, fish, and vegetables.
How to buy: Look for a heavy-bottomed pan with a grooved bottom (with tall ridges about ½ cm high) and low flared sides. These pans come in a variety of round sizes with a long handle, or in a rectangular shape usually 20cm up to 50cm in length with fold-down loop handles. For the round pans, since the pan is heavy you will want to ensure that the handle is firmly connected, stays cool, and fits easily in your hand. Look for a pan with one or two spouted sides enabling you to easily pour off liquid and fat; you do not want these to accumulate or the food will not grill properly. For the same reason, look for a pan with the tallest ridges possible. Grill pans come in stainless steel, cast iron, and non-stick aluminium. You can now buy cast iron pans which are pre-seasoned. I prefer to use cast iron or enamelled cast iron for this pan as they retain heat well.
Why buy one? I love these pans. They add the most flavour to your food and are essential if you don’t have access to (or can’t bother with the fuss of) a barbecue. They are also a low-fat way to cook.
How to use: Heat the pan until hot, add the food to the pan until cooked on one side; turn and cook on the other side.
Spaghetti pan/Pasta pan (Pentola per pasta)
Best for: Boiling pasta
How to buy: A pasta pot is taller than it is wide. Typically made of stainless steel or aluminium, it has a perforated inner basket and a lid. Sometimes you can buy pans which have a shallow steamer insert as well.
Why buy one? Pasta pans tend to be expensive and are not necessary unless you make pasta often in which case their ease of use will be worth the price. Otherwise you can just use a stock pot. One benefit of having a pentola per pasta is that (a) you drain the pasta faster so that you can ensure it is perfectly cooked. Another is that it makes it easier to cook pasta in batches. I do batch one for my kids early in the evening and then keep the water going for when my husband comes home later so I don’t have to re-boil a pot of water or fiddle around with a slotted spoon trying find bits of old pasta lurking at the bottom. Also, if you need to add pasta water to a dish to loosen the sauce, you have as much as you need. Nothing is worse than draining the pasta and then realising you forgot to save some pasta water to loosen the sauce with. And note, finally, that the bottom part of the pentola can be used as a stockpot.
How to use it: Fill the pot with water and bring the water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta and cook for the time required. Lift the perforated insert and shake to loosen any water and the pasta is ready to serve. To use the water again, simply add more pasta.
OVENWARE AND BAKEWARE
These are items of kitchenware that are made for the oven.
Best for: Baking, roasting, stewing, broiling, or braising
How to buy: The main criteria is the material covered below.
Material: This is the most important factor when buying ovenware and bakeware. The material will affect basic properties like suitability for the microwave, oven, and freezer; ability to handle temperature fluctuations; non-stick surface; care involved in maintenance; ability to change size and shape; and ease of cleaning. Heat conduction is also a consideration, though not as important as in pots and pans, since ovenware is slower cooking and the heat comes from all sides. The best material depends on what is being cooked so use the “best for” sections below as a guide.
TYPES OF OVENWARE
Baking sheet/Cookie sheet/Sheet pan/Swiss roll tin/Jelly roll pan(Placca dal forno/Placca per pasticceria/Teglia da forno di pasticceria)
Best for: Baking biscuits, pastries, free-form breads, cookies, and cakes; roasting meat, potatoes, and vegetables; and for toasting nuts, seeds, breadcrumbs, etc. The four-sided sheets are good for making rolled cakes.
How to buy: These pans are shallow and rectangular. They come in full size (65 X 45cm), three quarters (52.5 X 37.5cm), half size (45 X 32.5cm), and quarter size (32.5 X 22.5cm). Heavy-gauge steel or anodized aluminium are best for baking sheets. The sheet should be flat and hard, conduct heat well, and not warp. Look for light-coloured baking sheets. Don’t buy non-stick baking sheets, particularly if you want to use them with the broiler/grill. Baking sheets are made with 4, 3 or 2 straight sides. Sometimes the pans with 3 sides are called jelly roll or Swiss roll pans while the pans with 2 sides are sometimes called a cookie sheet or baking sheet.
Why buy one? This pan is indispensable; there is no substitute for it.
How to use: To toast food, place the items on the tray in a single layer and place in the oven, shaking occasionally until evenly toasted. To bake food, follow the instructions in the recipe and bake in the oven. Fill the trays uniformly and heat gradually to ensure they don’t warp.
Dutch oven/Braising pan/Casserole (Brasiera)
Best for: Braising and stewing.
How to buy: This pan is shallow, wide, and straight-sided with a heavy bottom and an oven-proof lid. It can be oval, rectangular, or round. Casseroles come in all different sizes but ideally are made of a heavy material that slowly conducts heat so that it retains the heat and moisture for as long as possible. The dish size should just fit the contents so that as little liquid as possible is needed to braise the meat or vegetables. The lid should seal tightly to retain the moisture so steam does not escape and any condensation falls back into the pot. The handles should be firmly attached and easy to grab (particularly if the pot is heavy) but fit easily into the oven. I have two: a heavy bottomed copper braising pot lined with tin which is better for searing first and baking afterwards. I also use this for soups. My second braising pan is the 28cm 7 ¼ quart Le Creuset enamelled cast iron Dutch oven which I use for braising in particular. Glass or earthenware casseroles are also good but cannot be used on the stove top.
Why buy one? Braising pots conduct heat slowly so it is easier to maintain the low temperature necessary to stew or braise. Most other metal pots are thinner so it is more likely the food will boil and scorch. You can use an earthenware pot instead but you should add a layer of aluminium foil over the top before covering with the lid to ensure the steam doesn’t escape. If you use a clay pot but want to sear the food first, do it in another pan and then add it to the clay pot. Braising pots have the advantage of not being temperature sensitive so they can go from hot to cold and also be used to sear food on the stove top (hob) top.
How to use it: For braising, meats may or may not be browned first (only if the pan is made of metal) and then are slowly cooked on low heat with little liquid covering about one third of the meat and a tight-fitting lid. For stewing, the method is similar but the meat is cut into small pieces and requires more liquid.
Gratin/Baking dish/Baking pan/Casserole (Tegame)
Round gratin pan
Rectangular baking dish
Best for: Lasagne, baked pasta, aubergine Parmigiana, gratin vegetables or seafood, etc.
How to buy: These dishes are shallow. They can be round, square, oval, or rectangular and come in a variety of sizes. They can be made out of copper, enamelled cast iron, porcelain, stoneware, enamelled steel, glass, or earthenware. Baking dishes should ideally be able to be used with the grill and transferred from a hot oven directly to the dining table. I use my glass baking dish but it can’t go under the broiler/grill. If the broiler I use my Le Creuset baking dish.
Why buy one? Because they are shallow, you cannot replace them with a clay pot – the contents won’t brown properly. If you intend to bake any of the dishes above, you will need this dish.
How to use: Follow the recipe: place the food in the dish, the dish in the oven, and remove when the top is golden brown.
Pizza stone (Pietra refrattaria)
Best for: Pizzas and free-form breads.
How to buy: Pizza stones can be square or round, and are made from clay, stone, slate or concrete (not recommended). You can also use slate or unglazed, lead-free terracotta tiles. The square stones give you a larger surface area. Make sure the stone will fit in your oven before buying. Thicker stones are better at retaining heat but need to be light enough to handle. The porousness of stone makes it a better material than metal which traps the moisture between crust and tray and makes the crust soggy. Even my perforated metal pizza tray cannot compete with my pizza stone.
Why buy one? Nobody likes a soggy crust, and a stone will give you a good crisp crust every time. The stone also absorbs the heat and keeps the crust at a consistent temperature.
How to use: Place the pizza stone in the cold oven before bringing the oven to the required temperature. Place the pizza on the hot stone and cook as per the recipe. Be careful about moving the stone as it cannot tolerate big temperature variations. Allow the stone to cool in the oven. Stones are sensitive to moisture so keep them dry. The porous stones are best not washed with soap; expect some discolouration over time.
Roasting/Broiling pan (Rostiera)
Best for: Roasting or broiling.
How to buy: These are rectangular pans of varying sizes with medium-high sides. They are ideally made from stainless steel, aluminized steel, or anodized aluminium and have racks for suspending the meat above the fat and juices. This is particularly helpful for fatty meat and meat which requires long roasting times. Look for heavy pans that fit in your oven while leaving room on all sides. Non-stick pans are easy to clean but cannot be used under the broiler/grill; I prefer not to buy non-stick. Look for well-connected, fairly large loop handles (to make them easy to grip comfortably in your gloved hands). Handles that stand upright or that fold down on hinges are best: they don’t take up valuable oven space.
Why buy one? For roasting or broiling meat you can use a lipped metal tray with a wire rack on it, but these tend to be shallow and you risk spilling the liquid. Roasting pans are ideal because you can cover them if necessary; the pans are deep enough to retain liquid and can be used to deglaze the pan on the stove top (hob) top.
How to use: Place the meat in the pan and place under the broiler or place in a hot oven.
Soufflé dish/Ramekin (Pirofila/Stampo/Recipiente per soufflé-ramequin)
Best for: Good for panna cotta, puddings, gratins, etc.
How to buy: Soufflé dishes can be large or small, individual ramekins. They are usually oval or round; deep, with straight sides; and made out of porcelain, stoneware, enamelled cast iron, or glass. They should be suitable for taking straight from the oven to the dining table.
Why buy one? Certain recipes require this equipment. The tall straight sides are perfect for soufflés, and for individual portions they are irreplaceable. When I am not using them for baking, I use them to keep all my chopped ingredients separate and organised before I start cooking.
How to use: Use depends on the recipe.
Terrine mould (Terrina)
How to buy: This mould is long and narrow. The material may be earthenware, terracotta, porcelain, or enamelled cast iron. They are typically oval or rectangular and often have a lid to let the steam escape.
Why buy one? Only buy one if you are making a terrine, but if you do make terrines they are invaluable. Otherwise use a loaf tin of the size that fits your recipe, although the metal tin may conduct heat too rapidly for a terrine
How to use: Follow the individual recipe and fill the terrine mould. Follow the recipe to bake or not.
Timbale mould (Stampo per timballo)
Best for: Timbale, moulding food.
How to buy: These come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are generally made of metal or ceramic. Buy the shape and size to fit the recipe you are making.
Why buy one? Some recipes may require this mould. If you don’t think you will be using it very often, the expenditure may not be worth your while.
How to use: Follow the recipe, fill the mould, and bake.
Cake tin or Cake pan (Tortiera)
Circular cake pan
Best for: Cakes and layered sponge cakes.
How to buy: A shallow, round tin for making the layers of a layered sponge cake. Shiny aluminium tins are best as they deflect the heat and the cake cooks evenly and quickly. As these cakes are thin and cook quickly, they don’t need slow-heating stainless steel.
Why buy one? If you under-fill a larger cake pan, it is difficult to get the cakes the same size so your layers will be uneven. Also, your cake may bake too quickly and get overcooked or burnt. The cake may turn out dry or tough.
How to use: Follow the individual recipe and add the batter to the pan and bake.
Spring-form pan/Spring-clip tin /Springform pan (Tortiera apribile)
Best for: Baking cakes, particularly delicate, crumbly, or tall cakes.
How to buy: A spring-form pan is a straight-sided round tin which comes in a variety of sizes, from around 10-24cm in diameter. The tin has two pieces: a removable base, and a ring with a spring clip which secures it tightly to the base and allows it to be removed easily when the cake has finished baking. This is particularly important if the cake is delicate or crumbly. These tins only come in metal. Look for heavy gauge aluminium tins (they heat more evenly) or tinned heavy gauge stainless steel. They should be medium-dark in colour (to achieve the right amount of browning). As the tin is deep and the cakes will cook for a relatively long time, you will need a heavy gauge pan to ensure they don’t burn or dry out. Some tins come with a removable centre tube so it can double as a tube tin.
Why buy one? This is essential cake-making equipment I use mine frequently as it makes it so easy to remove the cake from the tin without destroying it. If you are thinking of substituting two smaller cake tins, bear in mind that the cooking time and potentially the texture of the cake will be different. You will probably end up with an overcooked cake. If you overfill the smaller cake pans, they will probably spill over so the cake will be unattractive and create a mess in the oven. They may also bake unevenly, leaving the centre wet, the edges dry, and the cake sunken in the middle.
How to use: Assemble the tin by putting the base in the ring and closing the spring clip. Grease and line the pan with baking paper. Follow the recipe, add the batter to the pan and bake. Some recipes may require the pan to be partially immersed in water while baking or for the pan to be double layered with paper to inhibit burning.
Tart pan/Loose-bottomed tart pan/Quiche pan/Pastry ring (Tortiera a fondo mobile)
Tart pan/Quiche pan
Best for: Tarts, quiche.
How to buy: These tins are shallow and their sides are either smooth on the inside or fluted. They can be round, rectangular, or square, and come in porcelain, toughened glass, or metal. Tinned steel, loose-bottomed pans are best for more fragile tarts as they are the easiest to remove and ensure crisp pastry. Pastry rings have just the sides of the pan without a bottom and are used together with a cookie sheet to bake pastry. Pastry rings produce a crisper pastry since it has no bottom, the pastry can be removed immediately easily after baking. This is because humidity accumulates between the metal pan and the pastry as it cools. I don’t think it’s necessary to buy a non-stick pan.
Why buy one? Certain recipes require it.
How to use: Follow the individual recipe and bake. If using a pastry ring, rub the ring with oil and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Fit the pastry into the ring, ensuring the pastry is at a 90˚angle where the ring meets the sheet so that the pastry does not slide. Once baked, remove from the oven and slide the pastry on the paper off of the sheet onto a wire cooling rack, gently remove the paper.
Bundt pan (Stampo da budino)
Best for: Cakes.
How to buy: This pan is round and deep, and has a tube in the centre and straight sides. Some come in ornate shapes or with decorative impressions in the tin. They may be made out of tin, aluminium, tinned iron, or stainless steel. It is best to buy one with a non-stick finish for easy removal of the food.
Why buy one? Certain recipes require it.
How to use: Follow the individual recipe, add the mixture to the pan, and bake.
Loaf tin/Loaf pan (Stampo da plum cake)
Best for: Bread, cakes, meatloaves, and terrines.
How to buy: These tins are deep and have straight or slightly flared sides. It is best to buy one with a medium-dark non-stick finish or hinged with drop-down sides for easy removal of the food. Narrow models will cook more uniformly. I prefer glass or aluminized steel for this pan.
Why buy one: Certain recipes require it.
How to use: Follow the individual recipe, add the mixture to the pan and bake.
Pie pan/Pie dish (Stampo rotondo)
Best for: Pies – sweet and savoury
How to buy: These are round or oval pans with flared sides which come in a variety of sizes. They are made from earthenware, porcelain, enamelled cast iron, tin, and toughened glass. Pies with only pastry on the bottom are better in a glass pan. Pies and quiches with crust on both top and bottom will be better in a metal pie tin, as the bottom crust crisps better in metal.
Why buy one? Certain recipes require it.
How to use: Follow the individual recipe, add the mixture to the pan and bake. For glass pans you will need to reduce your oven temperature by 10° C.
Tube pan/Savarin pan/Ring mould (Bordura/Savarin/Stampo a ciambella)
How to buy: These tins are deep and round, and have a tube in the centre and straight or slightly flared sides. They vary in size from 4-30cm. Best with non-stick finish or with removable sides for easy removal of the food. Look for pans that are heavy gauge aluminized steel or heavy gauge anodized aluminium. They should have a dark colour finish and a minimum of seams so they don’t leak.
Why buy one? Certain recipes require it.
How to use: Follow the individual recipe, add the mixture to the pan and bake.
KNIVES, STEEL, AND CUTTERS
Best for: Slicing, chopping, paring, peeling, boning, carving, mincing, and filleting
How to buy:
Materials: I have knives with blades made from high-carbon stainless steel, carbon steel, and ceramic. Each metal has benefits and drawbacks which make them better suited for particular tasks.
Stainless steel is rust-resistant and does not react with food. The type of steel used will affect how sharp an edge can be maintained between sharpening. Stainless steel is more difficult to get razor-sharp than carbon steel but it will hold its edge longer.
Carbon steel is cheaper than stainless steel and sharpens better. The disadvantage is that carbon steel corrodes and stains as it interacts with some food. The blade will not keep its edge as long as stainless steel blades. The metal can also break if put under excessive stress, e.g. twisting or bending. Carbon steel knives require more care as they must be kept dry and coated with a thin layer of oil. If they become stained they can be cleaned with a scourer and an abrasive cleansing cream.
High-carbon stainless steel is a combination of stainless steel and carbon steel, and it makes a very high-quality blade. The high carbon content makes it easier to get a razor-sharp edge while the stainless steel gives the blade the strength to maintain the edge. It will have a sharper edge than normal stainless steel.
Ceramic keeps a razor-sharp edge for years with no need to sharpen. The knives are light and strong but are brittle so they can break or chip if dropped or used to cut something hard like bone or frozen meat. Ceramic does not react with food or corrode, but the knives need to be stored in their own box so they do not break.
There are two kinds: forged (hammered) or stamped (cut from a flat sheet of metal). Traditionally forged blades are of higher quality and more expensive, but some well-made stamped blades are good value for money. In forged knives, the metal from the blade runs all the way through the handle (this is known as the tang). This is particularly important if you have something heavy to cut as it gives you additional leverage and stability. The tang is usually secured to the handle by rivets, but some modern designs mould the handle around the tang. Forged knives also have a bolster, a thick section of metal between blade and handle which will keep your hand from slipping forward from the handle onto the blade.
Blades have two kinds of edges, straight (a machine ground straight or gently arced line which tapers and can be sharpened) or serrated (a hollow-ground blade punched in at the cutting edge to create a scalloped cutting edge). To use straight-edge blades you push down through the food while serrated edges draw across the food to cut like a saw. For machine-ground edges, you want a blade forged from a single sheet of metal and ground from the spine to the tip of the blade in a taper so there is no apparent change in graduation. For hollow-ground, serrated blades, two sheets of metal are combined and then bevelled. The type of edge you choose will be determined by the task you wish to undertake. Note: serrated knives cannot be sharpened in the normal way. See the following section on knife types.
Handles on high-quality knives are close-grained hard wood, plastic, or plastic-impregnated wood. The hard wood will not split or warp and has a slight texture which helps with the grip. Rosewood is preferred because it is not just hard but has a close grain that keeps it from splitting. Plastic impregnation lends strength to the wood, protecting it from moisture and detergents. Some new knives have hollow metal handles that are integrated with the blade. These are often very well balanced and have textured grips so your hand doesn’t slip. Ceramic knives often have plastic handles. You want a handle that fits well in your hand and that you can manoeuvre easily. The end of the handle should have a down-turned curve at the end to prevent your hand from slipping. Because everyone has different preferences about the way a knife handle feels in their hand, it is essential to buy knives in a shop, where you can try holding them as you would when using.
This is an essential factor to consider when selecting a knife. The balance should be evenly distributed between the handle and the blade. You can test this by holding the knife sideways 10 cm above a cutting board, with your index finger under the bolster at right angles to the knife. A perfectly balanced knife will not fall off your finger. If the knife tips one way or the other, the balance is off. Be careful doing this!
How to use and care for knives
Knives need to be handled carefully for your and their safety. Good quality knives are expensive, and the blades are often very thin. This means they should not be used for cutting through bone or they may be damaged. Heavy Chinese-style cleavers can be used for this purpose. Keep your knives as sharp as possible so they perform better. This also reduces the risk of an accident, because you don’t need to use as much force when chopping or slicing and therefore the blade is less likely to slip and cut you. I sharpen my straight-edged knives on a stone before every use and, when necessary, send them to a trusted professional sharpener. Knives should be kept clean and dry and should not be put into the dishwasher. Only use your knife on a wooden or plastic cutting board as other surfaces will damage the blade. Store your knives properly so that they don’t knock against each other and get damaged. They can be hung on a magnetic strip, stored in a knife rack, or kept in a knife wallet. Never store them in a drawer.
Chef’s knife/Cook’s knife (Trinciante/Coltello da cuoco)
Best for: Almost everything: cutting, chopping, slicing, mincing, dicing, etc.
How to buy: These range in length from 20 to 30 cm. Choose whichever you feel the most comfortable using. I have both the 25 cm and the 30 cm chef’s knives and only use the 30 cm chef’s knife for cutting very large melons and pumpkins.
Why buy one? Precision cutting of both vegetables and meat is easiest with a chef’s knife. Mincing is much easier due to the curved blade. If I could only have three knives, they would be a 25 cm chef’s knife, a 10 cm paring knife, and a long, serrated bread knife.
How to use: For slicing, place your left hand on the food with the tips of your fingers touching the food and your five knuckles curled over the fingertips. Rest the side of the blade against your knuckles and the tip of the blade on the cutting board. Gently slice using the knuckles of your left hand to guide the blade and determine the width of the cut. The tip of the knife on the board should provide stability so your knife doesn’t wobble. For mincing, place the flat palm of your left hand on top of the spine of the knife with the tip of the knife touching the board. Rock the blade back and forth across the food with the spine knocking against your palm to give it resistance and the tip of the blade remaining on the board to give it stability. Note: reverse all these instructions if you are left-handed!
Paring knife (Coltello da dispensa/Spelucchino)
Best for: Paring, trimming, peeling, and slicing fruit and vegetables. Good for sectioning citrus fruit, hulling strawberries, scraping vanilla beans, deveining prawns, coring fruit, cleaning artichokes, and trimming meat.
How to buy: These have a short, rigid blade ranging between around 10 and 15 cm in length. Mine is 9 cm long and it works well for a variety of tasks.
Why buy one? A paring knife gives you more control than larger knives. Look for a well-balanced paring knife with a sharp tip, compact length, and comfortable handle. If I could only have three knives, it would be a 25 cm chef’s knife, a 10 cm paring knife, and a long serrated bread knife.
How to use: Hold the food stable on the cutting board with your left hand and slice the food with the paring knife in your right hand.
Serrated slicer/Bread knife (Coltello da pane/Coltello a lama ondulata/Coltello seghettato)
Best for: Bread and cakes.
How to buy: Look for long blades with a rounded tip. The blade may be flexible or rigid and should have a bevelled edge. Look for a slightly flexible 25-30 cm blade that has uniformly spaced serrations of moderate size.
Why buy one? You need at least one serrated knife in the kitchen for slicing bread or cake. Cutting these with a flat blade will crush rather than slice them. If I could only have three knives, they would be a 25 cm chef’s knife, a 10 cm paring knife, and a long serrated bread knife.
How to use: Place the blade on the food and draw the blade across the food in a sawing motion to cut.
Boning knife (Scortichino)
Flexible Boning Knife
How to buy: The blade should be thin, highly tapered to the tip, and about 15 cm long. The blade is usually fairly rigid but you can select one that is slightly more flexible, which I prefer. The degree of flexibility is both a matter of preference and dependent on what you normally use the knife for: larger joints normally require a more rigid knife.
Why buy one? Western cooking often requires the separation of meat from bone and trimming the bones in a presentable manner. This can only be done easily with a boning knife.
How to use: Use the tip of the blade to lightly cut through meat and sinew using several small movements to trim the meat as required.
Carving knife (Cotello da macellaio)
Best for: Carving meat.
How to buy: This knife is long and relatively thin, with a tapered or, occasionally, rounded tip. A tapered tip is easier for cutting around bones but may get caught when slicing. Buy one with as long a blade as you think you can comfortably manage. Those that have a Granton Edge (scalloped sides to the blade to achieve a thinner edge) are very good. A slightly flexible blade will make carving thin slices easier. Look for one which gives you a great deal of control so you will be able to cut in awkward areas. The handle should be comfortable to hold and grip well so you don’t slip. There should ideally be a full tang and a bolster to keep your hand from slipping. Some extremely expensive decorative carving knives come with the matching carving fork. These are intended for impressing guests when you serve roasted meat. They can be very attractive, but remember that a carving knife is a tool, and function is far more important than form in this case.
Why buy one? You can carve a joint of meat with a chef’s knife and a paring knife but it’s more difficult.
How to use: Depends on the meat, but generally you place your carving fork in the meat to stabilise it and slice with the carving knife.
Fish slicer/Filleting knife (Coltello sfiletattore/Coltello per carpaccio)
Best for: Filleting fish, thinly slicing raw beef and fish for carpaccio, slicing smoked salmon, slicing cold cuts.
How to buy: A fish slicer has a narrow, flexible blade about 15 cm long, a fluted edge, and a rounded tip. It should be of sturdy construction.
Why buy one? It is really difficult to get very thin slices or to skin a fish fillet without this knife.
How to use: For slicing, hold onto the meat and make thin cuts with the knife. For skinning fish, make a cut down at the tail of the fish fillet through the meat but not through the skin. Then hold onto the end of the skin, turn your knife at a 45-degree angle with the blade against the skin, and scrape it down the skin away from your body while holding on to the tail end.
Serrated knife, small/Tomato knife/Citrus knife (Tagliamino)
Best for: Slicing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lemons, and oranges – anything with a tough skin so that it cuts without bruising, squashing, or juicing the food.
How to buy: Look for a 15-18 cm blade which is slightly flexible and has uniformly spaced serrations of moderate size which give you the right amount of grip. These blades can be curved or straight, offset or straight, and have a pointed, rounded, or pronged tip. I prefer a straight blade and don’t mind about the tip.
Why buy one? They are excellent for cutting smaller things requiring a serrated blade, like thinly slicing lemons or tomatoes. You can also do this with an extra-sharp straight blade or your long serrated knife, but the small serrated knife is probably faster and gives you more control.
How to use: Hold the food firmly and draw the blade across the food.
ESSENTIAL HAND TOOLS
How to buy: These come in two types. One is straight and thin, and the blade runs in a straight line from the handle which is particularly good for peeling fruit. The other is the ‘Y’’-shaped peeler, in which the blade is perpendicular to the handle. I much prefer the ‘Y’-shaped peeler because food doesn’t tend to get stuck in it as it does with straight peelers. Peeler handles can be metal or plastic and have a blade which is metal or ceramic. A peeler should be comfortable to hold, lightweight and sharp, and have a swivel blade to follow the contours of the food. I buy plastic peelers and replace them when the blade is dull as they cannot be sharpened.
Why buy one? Peeling with a knife takes ages and cuts too thickly. A peeler really saves time.
How to use: Draw the peeler across the food.
Scissors/Kitchen shears (Trinciante/Cesoie/Forbici da cucina)
Best for: Too numerous to mention, including cutting chicken, trimming dough, cutting up food for small children, cleaning fish, cutting baking paper, cutting kitchen twine, and snipping chives.
How to buy: Look for scissors with handles that fit comfortably in your hand and fit three to four fingers inside. The handles should not slip, and should be easy to open and close. Ensure that the blades are very sharp and long enough for the tasks required – the scissors should open wide enough for cutting a chicken. They should feel balanced in your hand and should be easy to clean; some come apart for easy cleaning, but make sure that these are stable to operate and don’t loosen over time. You can adjust the tension on some. Look for blades made from high-carbon steel or stainless steel. Some scissors have tiny serrations on the blade to give them more grip.
Why buy one? I have many pairs of kitchen shears as I use them many times while preparing a meal. You don’t want to dull your knives on paper and twine. Scissors are much faster and give you more control than a knife in some preparations.
How to use: Put your fingers through the wider loop of the handle, your thumb through the smaller loop of the handle, pull your fingers and your thumb away from each other to open the scissors, place the item to be cut perpendicular to the blades in between the blades, and bring your fingers and thumb together to close the blades.
Best for: Maintaining a proper edge on a knife blade so that the knife retains its sharpness.
How to buy: These are long steel, glass, ceramic, or diamond-impregnated sticks. They come in coarse, medium, and fine grain and can be either round or flat in section. They range in length from 7.5 cm to around 35 cm. The length you need will be determined by the length of the blades you need to sharpen, but in general terms the longer ones are more versatile. They usually have three parts: the sharpening stick for drawing the knife across, a guard to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself, and a handle, often with a ring for hanging the steel for storage. Some do not have a guard and must be used with even greater care. I have a round steel one about 35cm long that I am very happy with.
Why buy one? If you buy good knives, a steel – or other professional knife-sharpening tool – is essential to keep them working properly. Your knives will last longer if you use one regularly, and a sharp knife is safer to use than a dull knife.
How to use: Hold the steel vertically or put the tip on a cutting board and draw the knife along the steel ensuring you draw along the entire length of the blade. Using even pressure and a light touch, draw the steel once along on one side of the blade, and once on the other side of the blade. Repeat three times. If you hear a ringing tone, you are pressing too hard. Use the steel every time you use your knives.
SPECIALTY HAND TOOLS
Carving fork (Forchettone)
How to buy: Carving forks can have straight or curved prongs. I prefer the curved fork, which I find easier to manoeuvre. Look for handles that are easily gripped and have solid prongs. Make sure the handle fits comfortably in your hand and does not feel slippery. Tine lengths range from 10-25 cm. Find a length that feels comfortable to you and think about how large the joints of meat are that you will be carving. Some carving forks come in sets with the carving knife, a decorative touch when you are entertaining guests.
Why buy one? You will need something to hold a hot, large joint of meat in place while you carve. This fork will ensure that the meat does not slip while carving, causing injury and frustration. An ordinary table fork can be used instead, but it is not nearly as effective at holding the meat in place and more likely to cause slipping.
How to use: Stick the meat with the prongs of the fork and hold onto the handle to stabilise the meat while you carve with the knife.
Pastry Cutters (Taglia pasta, Stampini per biscotti)
How to buy: These come in a variety of graduated sizes and fit into a single container for easy storage. The top edge should be rolled and the bottom edge sharp for cutting. Cutters are typically made out of tin, stainless steel, or plastic and come in many shapes.
Why buy one? The cutters cut perfectly thanks to their sharp edge. You can also use cups or glasses but it is more difficult to dislodge the dough if it sticks.
How to use: Just place the cutter over the dough, press, pick up, and push the cut dough out onto your work surface.
Larding needle (Lardatoio)
Best for: Inserting fat into meats for roasting or braising.
How to buy: This is a long metal half-cylinder with a sharp point, ideally about 35 cm long and made from stainless steel.
Why buy one? Larding needles are the only tools that enable you to get a strip of fat deep into a large joint of meat, to provide juiciness in the finished dish. You can prick the outside of the meat with a skewer or small knife and stuff the fat in that way, but it is not as effective because it can’t penetrate very far into the meat and your meat will not be as juicy.
How to Use: Place the lard inside the needle, thread the needle lengthwise into the meat, use your finger to hold the lard in place, and remove the needle.
Mandoline (Tagliavedure a mandolino/Mandolino)
Best for: Slicing crisp vegetables and fruit to a uniform thickness, in slices or julienne. Some models can also create gauffrettes and batonnets.
How to buy: Mandolines are made using an all-metal construction or a combination of metal or ceramic (especially for the blades) and plastic. Ensure that the mandoline is very stable and has feet that grip the cutting board: this provides stability – slicing yourself on the mandoline is not fun. Make sure it has a large knuckle guard which fits well with the mandoline. I had one which was not well designed and when you got to the end of a carrot it would leave quite a lot at the end because the knuckle guard would hit the raised edges of the mandoline. I don’t like flat knuckle guards as they are difficult to hold; the knob-shaped ones are easier. The blades can be straight, slanted, or V-shaped and are made from stainless steel or high carbon steel (the better choice). They need to be razor-sharp. Some mandolines have adjustable screws for changing the thickness of the cut; others have plates which turn over so you have just two thicknesses. Some mandolines come with several interchangeable blades. Make sure the blades – particularly for doing julienne cuts – have strong teeth that do not bend when cutting hard vegetables like carrots. Finally, some mandolines fold flat which is handy for storing in drawers but ensure this feature does not come at the expense of stability.
Why buy one? I love the mandoline. There are recipes I would not consider without it as it makes short work of tedious cutting such as shredding the vegetable. It is a small luxury to have one, however, as I could just cut everything myself with my chef’s knife.
How to use: Attach the blade and adjust it to the desired thickness. Place the food against the mandoline, place the knuckle guard on the food, and start drawing the food back and forth against the blade until it has been completely sliced.
Best for: Finely chopping herbs, garlic, vegetables, and meat.
How to buy: The mezzaluna consists of one or two curved blades with two handles made out of wood, metal, or plastic. The blades are usually 25 cm long. Sometimes the mezzaluna – which means half-moon – are sold together with a curved cutting board into which the blades fit neatly.
Why buy one? Many people regard this as an easy way of finely chopping food. I have one but rarely use it as I prefer chopping with my chef’s knife. This is a matter of personal preference. If you know someone who owns one, try using theirs before buying so you can decide whether you would use it.
How to use: Place the food on the board, hold the mezzaluna by the handles with both hands, place it on top of the food, and rock back and forth.
Pastry wheel/Pasta wheel (Rotella tagliapasta)
Best for: Cutting pasta and pastry.
How to buy: Pastry wheels consist of a small handle, made of metal, wood or plastic with a wheel-shaped blade that rotates when rolled on a flat surface. The blade’s edge can be straight or zig-zagged. The handle should be comfortable and the blade should be sharp. Some come with several cutting wheels on a flexible frame which is adjustable in width so you can simultaneously cut more pasta the same width.
Why buy one? You can just use a paring knife, but the zig-zag feature is more decorative.
How to use: Place the pastry or pasta on the work surface, place your wheel on top and press down to roll across.
Pizza cutter (Rotella tagliapizza)
Best for: Slicing pizza without disturbing the toppings.
How to buy: These are similar in design to pastry wheels, but the wheel is usually larger. They come with plastic or metal wheels. I prefer metal for durability but the plastic is good if cutting on non-stick surfaces. It should have a comfortable handle and a finger guard. The blade should be razor sharp.
Why buy one? You can use a knife but the cheese tends to stick to it and so the toppings get dragged around.
How to use: Place the blade at the crust end of the pizza, push down and across the pizza.
Ravioli cutter/Ravioli stamp/Ravioli press (Stampo per ravioli)
Round ravioli cutter
Square ravioli cutter
Best for: Cutting out stuffed pasta.
How to buy: These have a square or round metal scallop-edged cutter with a wooden handle for stamping individual pastas.
Why buy one? You don’t necessarily need one: you can also fold the pasta yourself and cut with a knife, zig-zag cutter or cup. But a press ensures that the pasta cushions are uniform in size and shape.
How to use: Place a sheet of pasta on the work surface, place mounds of filling on top, top with another sheet of pasta, press around the filling to eliminate any air, and place the stamp over the filling to create individual ravioli.
Truffle slicer (Affettatartufi)
Best for: Finely slicing white and black truffles and firm mushrooms.
How to buy: Truffle slicers have a steel blade mounted in a small wood or steel frame. They often have a screw for regulating the thickness of the slices.
Why buy one? You could use a mandoline with a fine setting but it’s difficult to shave the truffles directly over food without risk of injury. Black truffles can also be grated.
How to use: Rotate the screw to the thickness desired. Hold the truffle shaver over the food and draw the truffle back and forth across the blade.
Cheese grater (Grattugia formaggio)
Best for: Grating cheese, particularly Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, pecorino and other hard cheeses.
How to buy:
Barrel Graters: These come in plastic or metal, with metal grating surfaces. I prefer plastic because mine lives in the refrigerator with the cheese and gets used daily – I like plastic that isn’t cold to the touch. Look for models with a large barrel so it can grate faster, and a comfortable handle that is easy to squeeze, disassemble and clean. Some have interchangeable barrels with perforations of different sizes.
Box Graters: These are round or rectangular boxes with a grater as the lid so the cheese falls in when grated. The cheese is removed by pulling open the drawer.
Why buy one? If you have a general grater then you don’t need a separate cheese grater. However, if you grate cheese all the time, as we do at my house, it is much more convenient to have one just for this job.
How to use: For the rotary graters just place a chunk of cheese the appropriate size into the hopper, close the top, and squeeze in place while you crank the handle to grate cheese onto the food. For the box graters, draw the cheese up and down across the grate and then collect the cheese from the box.
Microplane rectangular grater
Box grater with blade top
Best for: Grating cheese, ginger, bread, fruit and vegetables; zesting citrus fruit.
How to buy: These can either be flat with a blade and handle, be rectangular or triangular with multiple blades,or have a blade built in as the top of a box. The benefit of the multiple-blade design is that it offers three to four different types of grating, generally medium, fine, rasp, and slicing. The boxes can contain the food after it is grated and sometimes come with a cover for the bottom to retain the food. The drawback of the box style is that you risk grating your knuckles. Look for a stainless steel grater with enough surface area to comfortably grate a potato. It should be well balanced, have feet which keep it stable so it doesn’t move around, and have comfortable handles to hold it in place. Graters are usually made of metal, either stainless steel or tin. The classic type of grater has holes stamped out so the grating edge is thicker. The newer Microplane grater has teeth which jut out parallel to the metal frame. They are thinner, and excellent for grating hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, and citrus zest. I have a box grater for vegetables, fruit, and softer cheeses, and a Microplane for citrus zest, chocolate, nutmeg, hard cheeses, and ginger.
Why buy one? Grated ingredients have different textures from chopped.
How to use: Draw the food down across the grater so the teeth catch the food. Be careful not to grate your knuckles. The medium grater is good for soft cheese, vegetables, and fruit, the fine grater is good for harder cheeses and chocolate, the rasp is good for citrus zest and nutmeg, and the slicer is good for softer cheeses.
Nutmeg grater (Grattugia per noce moscata)
Best for: Grating nutmeg; creating texture on the back of gnocchi.
How to buy: Some are flat boards with a rasp grater. Others are mills with a spring action which pushes the nutmeg against the blade as you churn. And there are now Microplane style flat boards with knuckle guards. Buy one which is comfortable to use and you are less likely to hurt yourself.
Why buy one? I prefer to use my Microplane for nutmeg.
How to use: For the mill and the Microplane style, you pop the nutmeg in, close it, and then either churn (mill) or draw the knuckle guard back and forth across the blade (Microplane). For the rasp grater, hold the nutmeg firmly and draw it back and forth across the blade with your hand.
Apple corer (Levatorsoli)
Best for: Coring apples and pears.
How to buy: Look for corers with longer barrels of a wider diameter so you only have to cut in once to remove the core. They are normally made out of stainless steel and may have a plastic or rubber handle. The bottom of the barrel should be razor sharp, and can be either straight or serrated with zig-zag cutting teeth. Try the handle for comfort before buying.
Why buy one? I only use this if I need a whole apple or pear for a dish, which is very rarely. But if you make dishes using whole fruit, this is very useful.
How to use: Stand the fruit, stem-side up, on a cutting board, Place the cutting end of the tool over the stem and push the barrel down through the centre of the fruit until it touches the cutting board. Discard the core.
Cherry stoner (Snocciolatore)
Best for: Removing the pit from cherries, plums, or olives.
How to buy: They come in stainless steel or plastic. Look for a model which pits several cherries at onece to save time. Look for models that don’t spray juice, keep the fruit intact, don’t jam, neatly retain the pit, and are easy to clean.
Why buy one? It saves time if you need to pit a lot of cherries or olives and will help keep your kitchen clean.
How to use: Place the cherries in the pitter, close, remove the cherries, and add the next batch.
Melon baller (Scavino)
How to buy: Melon ballers have a plastic or metal handle, and either have the cutting scoop on one or both ends, in different sizes. The sizes are usually 17 mm and 22 mm. The scoops should be firmly attached to the handle and be sharp. The handle should fit comfortably in your hand.
Why buy one? Fun for creating decorative balls, and for cutting out the chokes of artichokes.
How to use: For forming balls, push the scoop into the fruit and spin it around to form a ball. To de-seed, scrape along the seeds to remove. To remove the central spiny part from artichokes, peel the outer leaves from the artichoke; open the central leaves, scoop out the choke with the small melon baller and discard.
Pepper grinder/Pepper mill (Macinapepe)
Best for: Freshly grinding black pepper.
How to buy: Pepper mills come in many varieties: tall or short; battery-powered or hand-cranked; in plastic, wood, or metal; with internal grinding mechanisms made of ceramic, plastic, or steel. Some of these are made for entertaining and can be extremely beautiful (and expensive!). Look for pepper grinders that fit into your hand well, grind easily, fill easily, and are durable; you should also be able to alter the size of the grind from coarse to fine. I prefer a steel mechanism. You can even buy disposable pepper mills with the black pepper corns inside.
Why buy one? I think it is absolutely essential for Western cooking. Pre-ground black pepper tastes like sawdust because pepper loses its volatile oils quickly after being ground.
How to use: Turn the top or the handle or push the button to grind the pepper.
MASHERS, POUNDERS, AND PURÉERS
Cutlet bat (Batticarne)
Best for: Pounding meat thinly, crushing nuts, etc.
How to buy: Cutlet bats can look like a mallet with a long straight handle or have a shorter handle with a flat round disc on the end. The long-handled bat is used like a hammer, held horizontally over the work surface, while the shorter-handled bat is held vertically in the fist and smashed downwards onto the meat. The long-handled bat can also have a round or square surface to the bat-head, and some have both a flat side and a spiked side for tenderizing meat. I prefer the short- handled version. The bigger the surface area of the disc or head the better, and heavier bats make it easier to pound the meat thinly. Bats are typically made out of stainless steel and may have a rubber or stainless steel handle. The handle should be comfortable and not slippery.
Why buy one? You can just use the side of a cleaver but if you often flatten meat for escalopes etc., this is a worthwhile investment.
How to use: I normally cut the meat across the grain, place the meat between two pieces of cooking paper, and start whacking it with the bat. Be careful to get the surface even and not to break the meat.
Food mill (Passaverdura/Mouli)
Best for: Puréeing soft food such as tomatoes, soups, fruit, etc.
How to buy: A food mill should have a bowl with a hand crank attached to a flat blade, either curved or conical, which is rotated over a disk. Look for food mills which are well constructed, fit firmly on top of the pan or bowl that will hold the purée, be easy to clean, and easy to turn. It should come with interchangeable disks with different-sized perforations between 1 and 3 mm to alter the thickness of the purée, and these discs should be easy to change. They come in plastic and stainless steel. I prefer stainless steel for durability and a 40 cm diameter bowl.
Why buy one? The food mill removes hard parts such as seeds, skins, lumps, fibres, and bones from the pulp rather than chopping them up. You can just use a blender or a food processor but the texture will be different and neither machine can completely remove skins and seeds.
How to use: Place the food mill on top of the pot or bowl, place the food in the bowl of the food mill, and turn the crank.
Best for: Mashing potatoes, tomatoes, root vegetables, cooked apples, and any other soft foods that need mashing.
How to buy: These come with a perforated plate or a wavy wire; some have a second wire which can be pushed down to mash faster. Look for one with a comfortable handle which is long enough that you can mash in a pot without burning your hands. The best are made of metal.
Why buy one? It’s faster and more uniform than mashing with a spoon and it makes it easier to get rid of lumps.
How to use: Push the masher down on the food and repeat until evenly mashed.
Mortar (Mortaio) and Pestle (Pestello)
Best for: Grinding nuts, herbs, garlic, spices, saffron, chilli, and making sauces and pastes like pesto, marinades, etc.
How to buy: Look for mortars that have a bowl capacity of at least 700 ml, as the mortar should be only filled half way when used; the pestle should be long and heavy so that your hand does not come in contact with the bowl. Mortars are generally made from stone, ceramic or even bronze, and pestles are made from stone, glass, ceramic, marble, metal, or wood. Italians traditionally use a marble mortar with an olive-wood or marble pestle. The wooden pestle is good for crystals like sugar and salt but not for herbs as the wood absorbs the herbs’ flavour. Marble is also porous and will be stained by ingredients like saffron. I prefer to use a heavier stone mortar with a matching pestle as the texture of the stone facilitates the grinding. Be careful that the texture is not so coarse that food gets trapped in it (like some Mexican volcanic stone mortars). Mortars should be stable and not move around the countertop when used.
Why buy one? You can finely chop or blitz foods in the food processor or hand-held blender but the texture is not the same.
How to use: Place the food in the mortar and begin grinding with the pestle as specified in the recipe. Don’t fill the mortar more than halfway so that when you grind, the food doesn’t splatter or spill. Generally, the food is ground rather than pounded.
Potato ricer (Schiacciapatate)
Best for: Breaking down cooked potatoes, vegetables, chestnuts, and fruit. It is particularly helpful for making potato gnocchi as the potatoes come out light, dry, and fluffy.
How to buy: Ricers can be made from plastic or chromed steel. I prefer metal for durability. They should have a comfortable handle which does not get hot and is easy to squeeze closed, and should have a decent-sized hopper. Ricers come with fine and coarse discs or a dial to change the size. The more perforations in the disk the better. Some come with a pot hook to ensure stability. Look for models that are easy to clean and dishwasher-safe.
Why buy one? Ricers ensure that the potatoes are uniformly puréed and lump-free, producing fluffy not gluey potatoes. This tool is essential for making potato gnocchi.
How to use: Place the cooked potato in the compartment, line up the pusher, and squeeze to extrude the potato.
Basting bulb/Bulb baster/Turkey baster (Siringa per ungere la carne)
Best for: Basting meat or poultry while it is roasting.
How to buy: Basters have a tapered tube with a rubber bulb on the thick end. Buy a durable bulb that won’t crack. Some come with different tips that can be screwed into the end and a long handled brush for cleaning the inside of the barrel. The tube may be metal or plastic; metal ones are more expensive but they can be used in a hot pan without fear of melting.
Why buy one? It is easier than using a metal cooking spoon because you don’t have to worry about the angle and spilling the liquid when trying to reach into a hot oven.
How to use: The bulb is squeezed, the tip is placed in the liquid, the bulb is released to draw the liquid into the tube, the baster is transported to the meat, and the bulb is squeezed again to release the liquid over the roasting meat.
Best for: Spreading egg wash, glazes, jam, melted butter, marinades or oil.
How to buy: These can come with natural, nylon or silicone bristles and can have plastic, metal, wooden, or silicone-coated handles.
Why buy one? You can use bunched up cling film to spread a thin layer of liquid but if the food is hot, you risk burning your hand.
How to use: Just dip the brush into the liquid and brush over the food.
Can opener/Tin opener (Apriscatola)
Best for: Opening cans.
How to buy: There are two principal hand-held types of opener: the traditional kind which cuts the lid from the top with two gear-driven wheels and leaves sharp edges, or the safety can opener that cuts the entire lid off from the side and leaves a dull edge. I think both are fine but I am used to the traditional type. The handles can be made from plastic, metal, or nylon. They have a rotating blade, two handles, and a knob to turn the gears. Look for one that cuts easily and is comfortable to hold and operate.
Why buy one? It’s very hard to open a tin without one.
How to use: Attach the can opener to the lip of the tin, squeeze the handles shut, and start turning.
Chinois (Chinois/Colabrodo/Passasalsa/Colino Cinese)
Best for: Straining sauces, puréeing, etc.
How to buy: Chinois are made from stainless steel and have a conical mesh or perforations through which the liquid drips. Often they have a metal bar ring around the mesh, and a long handle. Look for a chinois with few seams or welds; as much as possible should be formed from one piece of metal. Some come with stands, or have clips attached to hold them in place over a pan. Some come with a cone-shaped pestle to assist in forcing food through the mesh. Look for chinois that are durable, have a large capacity (about 18-20 cm deep) and are stable (with pot clips or stand).
Why buy one? These are optional. You can also use a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. I don’t use mine very often and find it awkward to store.
How to use: Place the chinois into the stand or over the top of a bowl, place the food inside, and use the pestle to push the food through the fine mesh.
Chopping board/Cutting board (Tagliere)
Best for: Cutting meat, vegetables, fruit, and cheese
How to buy: Chopping boards come in plastic and wood. There are many varieties: some fold into a funnel or a scoop, some straddle the sink, some come with interchangeable surfaces for different foods, some are colour coded. Wooden boards are usually made from two or more woods that have been glued together; generally speaking, the fewer pieces, the more durable the board will be. Look for wooden boards that are 4-6 cm thick and won’t splinter or crack with use or washing. Cracks and other forms of damage trap bacteria. With plastic boards, soft but durable polypropylene is the best option: contact with it will not damage your knives, and the blade will not slide along the surface as it sometime does with harder plastic boards. The knife should be able to move easily along the board.
I prefer wooden boards to plastic although this is subjective. I feel my knife and the food slip around plastic boards, and the boards slip around the countertop. Wood is considered by some people to be less hygienic because it is porous and tends to crack more than plastic. Some people buy teak which is cut with the grain parallel to the board to solve the warping issue. I have many boards of differing sizes as I cut my meat on one board, strong-flavoured aromatics like garlic and onions on a different board, and bread and fruit on a third board. I wash and dry my boards immediately and replace them if there is any sign of splitting.
Why buy one? An essential item of equipment. It will save your counter top and your knives.
How to use: Place the board on the countertop, place the food on it and start cutting. Do not soak wooden boards in water or put near heat. You can clean them with lemon and salt to inhibit bacteria.
Best for: Separating food from liquid, e.g. draining cooked pasta, rice, or greens, washing vegetables and fruit, draining the liquid from soaked grains.
How to buy: This is a perforated bowl made from plastic, stainless steel, anodized aluminium, wire mesh, or enamelled steel. Look for one that is light but well-made and has a solid base with either three firmly connected feet or a ring. They come in a variety of sizes, but a large colander is really all you need. Most have two looped handles for easy lifting. The feet or ring should be tall enough to keep the food away from standing water in the sink. Ensure that the holes or mesh are fairly small – if they are too large, small foods (such as rice or peas) can slip through.
Why buy one? It is tricky to drain all the water quickly from pasta, etc. without one unless you have a pasta-cooking pentola. You can use a large strainer or wire basket on a handle but it is more difficult to remove all the water.
How to use: To separate food from water, place the colander in the sink and pour the contents of the pan into the colander, shake the colander and use the food as per the recipe. To wash vegetables and fruit, place them in the colander in the sink under running cold water and rub the vegetables and fruit to clean them. Shake to remove excess water.
Cooking fork (Forchettone)
Best for: Transferring and turning large pieces of meat, swirling pasta, etc.
How to buy: Long, two-pronged forks come in metal, heat-resistant plastic and wood. The fork needs to be well constructed with long tines to hold the meat firmly.
Why buy one? This is a useful tool but you can get away with using tongs.
How to use: Prick the meat with the fork where the meat is thickest. Lift. If twirling long pasta, dip the fork into the pasta and spin until the pasta has wound around the tines.
Cooking spoon (Cucchiaione)
Best for: Transferring food and folding whipped egg whites and cream.
How to buy: Look for a metal spoon with a handle long and comfortable enough to keep your hands cool. The spoon head should be big enough to hold large pieces of potato, meat, etc.
Why buy one? A wooden spoon cannot transfer large pieces of food as quickly as a cooking spoon. A cooking spoon is also thinner, with a wide head that is perfect for folding whipped eggs and cream into batters.
How to use: Scoop the food into the head of the spoon before transferring it. To fold: take a large spoonful of the whipped egg white or cream and add it to the mixture you want to combine it with. Cut through the food horizontally, scoop some of it up and flip in on top; repeat until well mixed.
Fine mesh bowl strainer/Sieve (Colino/Passino)
Best for: Sifting, sieving, puréeing, or straining food.
How to buy: These are rounded bowls with fine mesh held in place by a metal ring, sometimes with a long handle. They range in size from 6 to 35 cm in diameter and can be made from stainless steel, nylon, or tinned steel. Stainless steel is preferable because it does not react with acidic foods and is the most durable. A fine mesh strainer should last forever if it is well made.
Why buy one? This piece of equipment is versatile and relatively inexpensive. I have several different sizes and use them very often.
How to use: To sift, fill the bowl part way with dry ingredients such as flour and tap the side of the sieve. To sieve, use the back of a spoon to press the moist contents through the mesh. To clean, soak in hot, soapy water and finish cleaning by hand or in the dishwasher.
Best for: Transferring liquids, jams, small dried goods, and oil into containers with a long, relatively narrow neck.
How to buy: These are cylindrical cups with a nozzle at the bottom made from stainless steel, glass, nylon, porcelain, plastic or silicone. Silicone funnels that collapse allow for easy storage. Look for nozzles which are wide enough (at least 1 cm) that the food doesn’t get clogged, but are thin enough to fit into bottle necks. Funnels should have a decent cup capacity so thicker liquids don’t overflow and an indentation in the nozzle to allow the air out as the container is filled.
Why buy one? Useful if you want to transfer liquids or refill small containers. For dry goods, you can also fold kitchen paper into a cone, snip off the tip with scissors, tape or fold into place, and use instead of a funnel.
How to use: Place the nozzle of the funnel into the container you want to fill and slowly start pouring your liquid into the cup, making sure it doesn’t overflow.
Oven gloves/Mitts (Guanti da forno)
Best for: Handling hot pots, pans, and utensils and transferring anything into or out of the oven.
How to buy: Their main function is to prevent you from getting burned so look for gloves which are heat resistant and won’t melt or scorch if they touch the heating element. You should look for gloves that are form fitting, as thin as possible to fit inside loop handles, have some grip, are comfortable, and washable. Gloves can be made from cotton, leather, silicon, neoprene, Nomex, or Kevlar. Neoprene cannot be washed and both cotton and neoprene are flammable. The best option is a Nomex-Kevlar mix.
Why buy one? You need gloves to safely handle hot pots and pans, particularly when they are heavy. Dish towels are not stable, are too thin, and do not completely cover your hand.
How to use: Place them over your hands before touching hot objects in the kitchen.
Best for: Transferring and serving soup, stew, and drinks, and spooning batter into the pan.
How to buy: Ladles come in stainless steel or plastic but I prefer stainless steel as the plastic can sometimes melt. Look for a ladle whose handle fits comfortably in your hand, and of a length that you find comfortable to use. If it is too short it will get lost in your pot. Ladles with a hook for attaching to the edge of the pot are a good choice. Some ladles have a lip for easy pouring or rolled edges which inhibit drips. The handle may be straight or offset; some cooks find offset handles easier to work with. Some ladles have a perforated divider for pouring off the liquid without the solids. The size of the bowl varies too, with several sizes available; fit the size to the job at hand.
I prefer straight, stainless steel ladles with rolled edges. I have them in small and large but would choose large if I could just have one.
Why buy one? Ladles are useful for many jobs, from making soup to pancakes.
How to use: Dip the ladle into the liquid, remove any drips against the side of the pan or bowl, and transfer your liquid to the new container.
Measuring spoons (Cucchiaio/Misurino)
Best for: Measuring spices, salt, herbs, baking ingredients, etc.
How to buy: These come in metal or plastic. They are made in precise sizes, usually from 5 ml to 25 ml, or in officially sized teaspoons and tablespoons. They can be a single spoon with a moving barrier to change size; a ring with spoons of different sizes; or separate, unattached spoons of differing sizes. The ring connecting multiple spoons should be easy to open and close. The spoons should be durable, non-porous, impervious to rust, lightweight, and accurate. Make sure the handle is level with the edge of the bowl so you can level the contents with the flat back of a knife. I prefer nesting stainless steel measuring spoons with several sizes on a ring. Some foods, like dried herbs and saffron, may cling to plastic.
Why buy one? These are absolutely vital for having exact measurements in baking. It’s also a good idea, when trying a new recipe, to measure the ingredients exactly so you can understand how the dish is supposed to taste.
How to use: Dip the required spoon into the ingredient and level off with a flat knife if necessary.
Measuring cup (Misurino/Dosatore)
Best for: Accurately measuring ingredients. This is essential in baking.
How to buy: Measuring cups come in plastic, glass, and metal. I prefer glass because it’s easy to see the contents, you can use them in the microwave, they’re heat resistant (unlike plastic which can warp or metal which can get too hot), and they don’t cloud with time (as some plastic does). Make sure that the plastic is the safe type for food or putting hot food in it otherwise may be potentially toxic. These are made as scoops (some with an adjustable barrier), cups of different sizes, cones, and other shapes and sizes. I find the cone doesn’t gives you a good sense of volume. The main measuring cup should be accurate, hold at least 500 ml, and have markings for both millilitres and cups. (Some measuring cups come in nesting sizes). The markings should be easy to read and durable so they don’t rub off with time. The handles should be comfortable and stay cool even when the cup contains hot liquid. The cup should be wide enough to accommodate a spatula and ideally have a rounded bottom; this makes it easier to scrape the contents out. It should be easy to clean and stick resistant so that syrups don’t attach (plastic and silicone are better for this). I like my Pyrex glass measuring cup best.
Why buy one? These are necessary if you want to follow a recipe accurately.
How to use: Pour in the ingredient and check it is level with the measurement you need.
Mixing bowl (Bacinella bombata/Bastardella)
Best for: Mixing ingredients, marinating meat, stirring batters and dough, soaking vegetables, beating, cooking, and reducing cream, making mayonnaise, beating eggs, and using as a bain-marie.
How to buy: Bowls come in glass, ceramic, plastic, copper, stainless steel, and wood. There are also bowls with a silicone coating on the bottom to provide stability. They vary greatly in size. Buy several different sizes that nest inside each other for easy storage. Ideally, mixing bowls should be heatproof, ovenproof and deep; they should have two handles, and be semi-spherical and non-porous so they don’t absorb stains and odours. They should be unbreakable (thin glass bowls will break more easily), easy to scrape, and stable, so they don’t move around the countertop. If you own a microwave oven, it’s useful to have non-metal bowls. Metal bowls should conduct heat so that you can use them for food which needs to be heated or cooled over water. I have a large collection of bowls in different sizes.
Why buy one? Mixing ingredients in your pots is difficult as they don’t have a rounded bottom. You can also use bowls on top of pots to form a bain-marie.
How to use: As per the recipe. If you want to keep a bowl from moving on the work surface, dampen a tea towel and twist it into a circle to form a nest for the bowl.
Perforated spoon (Schiumarola/Cucchiaio forato)
Best for: Removing food from liquid.
How to buy: These can be plastic, metal, wood or nylon. Look for models with long, comfortable handles that are heat-resistant so you don’t burn your hands. They should be light and have deep bowls. Small perforations or slots are better to keep you from losing small pieces of food while draining the liquid quickly.
Why buy one? You can also use a wire basket spoon unless the food is too small and slips through.
How to use: Dip the spoon in the liquid and fish out the food.
Rolling pin (Mattarello/Matterello)
Baton with handles carved in
Best for: Rolling out pasta (if you are strong), dough, and pastry.
How to buy: Rolling pins come in several varieties: a solid straight baton, a solid baton that tapers, a baton with handles carved into it, and a pin and barrel – a barrel around a metal stick with handles that stay fixed as the barrel rolls separately. Rolling pins can be made from plastic, silicone, metal, wood or marble. Some can be filled with ice for rolling out pastry with a lot of butter. Thicker rolling pins are better for pastry while thin ones are good for long pasta such as tagliatelle. I use a solid straight baton because there are no edges which can crease the dough. The dough is rolled evenly unlike with the tapered baton, and you can adjust the pressure more easily than with the pin rolling pin. I like a hard, tight-grained wood with a smooth finish as the wood holds the flour better, preventing the dough from sticking. Make sure yours is long enough to roll a wide pastry but also fits in the drawer. Mine is about 45 cm long. For hand-rolling pasta you will need a straight rolling pin 90 cms long.
Why buy one? It is very difficult to make pastry and dough without a rolling pin. I had to use a wine bottle with the labels removed while on holiday once. It worked, not well or easily, but it worked.
How to use: Place your dough or pastry on the work surface and flatten with the palm of your hand, place the rolling pin on top, and start rolling. Some people never wash their wooden rolling pins, they just wipe them with a dry cloth before storing. I wash mine with the view that I may have to replace it if it splits or doesn’t clean properly.
Salad spinner (Centrifuga per insalata/Scola verdura)
How to buy: Salad spinners are normally plastic and come with a hand crank, a hand pump, a lever, or a string to pull. They have a perforated bowl which sits inside a solid bottom bowl and a lid with a handle. Look for models that stay firmly in place on the countertop and spin the inner bowl fast for efficient removal of water. Look for a spinner whose bottom bowl is not perforated as it can be useful for washing the leaves in before spinning.
Why buy one? For drying leaves and making good salads (the dryer the leaves, the more the dressing will cling to them) . The spinner is quick, efficient and economical. You can also place the wet greens in a towel, gather the edges and swing your arm in a circle to remove the water by centrifuge. Salad spinners can be economical and you can get them at Ikea among other retailers. The best are the string-pulling centrifuge type like the Zyliss brand.
How to use: Place the greens in the perforated bowl inside the bottom bowl and fill with cold water. Rinse the leaves well, lifting the perforated bowl out of the bottom bowl so the dirt or sand remains in the bottom bowl. Replace the water and repeat until the water is clear. Shake the perforated bowl to remove as much excess water as possible, place the bowl inside the bottom bowl, fix the lid firmly, and centrifuge to remove any excess water. Open the lid slightly, pour out any water and repeat.
Best for: Accurately weighing food.
How to buy: Scales come in three types: digital, spring, and balance beam. Digital scales are preferable as they are fuss-free and highly accurate. Look for one which is light and compact but has a large enough surface to fit most bowls. It should be easy to clean, easy to use and easy to read, and have buttons that are easy to use. I like scales where the surface is raised from the screen so that I can put pans on top and still read the screen. Look for scales that can weigh up to a minimum of 3 kilos and can switch between metric and imperial measurements.
Why buy one? If you want to bake, scales are essential. If you are learning how to cook or are cooking something new, it is best to use scales to ensure you get the correct ratios.
How to use: Place the bowl on the scale and zero it out. Select metric or imperial and then start to add your contents until it reaches the desired weight as dictated by your recipe.
Best for: Threading meat and vegetables to grill, bake or broil.
How to buy: Skewers can be made of wood or metal. The wooden ones tend to burn on the grill so I prefer the metal ones (they are also reusable). They can be round or flat in section; the flat ones are better because they help the food stay in place. Look for skewers that are not flimsy but are also not so thick that they split delicate food. They can be long or short, as you prefer. Look for skewers with a loop on the end; they handle more easily.
Why buy one? If you want to grill small pieces of food you will need skewers or a grill basket or they may fall through the grill. Children love food served on skewers. It’s the only way I can get my three-year-old son to eat meat.
How to use: Thread the food through the skewer ensuring the last piece added is firmly in place to prevent the rest from sliding off.
Best for: Removing the foam and fat from the top of soups or stocks; removing fried fragments from a deep-fryer; and removing impurities when cooking.
How to buy: Look for a flattish, lightweight mesh basket on a long handle, ideally of stainless steel, of sturdy construction and whose mesh won’t easily come loose from the basket’s frame. The basket size ranges from 8-24 cm in diameter.
Why buy one? It makes it easy to skim off impurities, foam, fat, and pieces of food without removing a lot of the oil, soup, stock or sauce.
How to use: Tip the skimmer’s edge along the surface of the liquid and let the basket gather the impurities while the liquid filters through the mesh back into the cooking pot. Tip the basket to release the impurities into a bowl and repeat.
Spatula/Slotted turner/Turner/Offset spatula (Palettina)
Best for: Turning or transferring foods like cookies, meat, eggs, baked pasta, and patties.
How to buy: A spatula is a flat blade attached to a handle. There are many different types made from wood, metal, plastic and coated metal. They can be round, square, or rectangular; offset or straight; wide or narrow; flexible or stiff; and slotted or solid. The blade can vary in length from 12.5-25 cm and in width from 7.5-10 cm. In most cases I prefer a wide slotted spatula as the slots allow excess fat to drain. The metal ones are excellent as they are thin and easily slide under food. Note: metal spatulas damage Teflon and other non-stick pans (although with this coating the food is also less likely to stick in the first place). Wood is better on non-stick coated pans. I have several: metal, coated metal and wood. The front edge of the spatula should be as thin as possible. Look for a sturdy spatula with a comfortable handle of a length you are happy with: too short and you burn your hand, too long and it becomes cumbersome to transfer heavy food. They range from 9-35 cm but the ideal length is around 26 cm. Look for a heat-resistant handle that doesn’t melt. It needs to be flexible enough to slide under the food without damaging it but firm enough to support the food to turn it.
Why buy one? This is an essential piece of equipment for frying, sautéing, and serving. It is also good for deglazing pans for making sauces.
How to use: You can use the edge of the blade to cut and then run the tip of the blade under the food, scraping as you go along, and lift out the food or turn it.
Spatula/Scraper (Spatola di gomma)
Best for: Scraping bowls, making omelettes, and folding whipped egg whites or cream.
How to buy: The heads are made from rounded rubber, silicone, or plastic; the handles from wood, plastic or metal. They come in various widths and lengths and the heads are sometimes slightly cupped. Look for spatulas that are durable, non-porous and heat resistant. They should be flexible enough to clean a bowl well but also stiff enough to scrape a pan. I have several in different widths, lengths, and shapes. I prefer silicone as they don’t melt or break.
Why buy one? It is impossible to perfectly scrape a bowl clean without one. They are cheap and will be your best friends in the kitchen.
How to use: Slide along the edge of a bowl to scrape it clean.
Splatter screen (Schermo splatter)
Best for: Frying or cooking sauces.
How to buy: The splatter screen fits over the frying or sauté pan and keeps the fat or sauce from flying all over the kitchen. Look for models with a well-made screen that will not become detached from its frame. The handle should be comfortable in your hand and not get hot. The screen should have a fine mesh to contain the oil or sauce. It should be large enough to fit over your pan, and be stable. Some have hooks on the frame which secure it to the rim of the pan so that it doesn’t slip off. Some also have handles which fold so that they balance better on the pan.
Why buy one? It keeps your kitchen and clothes clean. If you use an ordinary pan lid, steam will be trapped in the pan. A splatter screen allows the pan to breathe and liquid to evaporate.
How to use: Place the screen over your pan, line the handle up with your pan handle, and enjoy.
Steamer basket (Cestello per cottura a vapore)
Best for: Steaming food.
How to buy: These can be metal, bamboo, or silicone and come in the shape of a solid basket or a fanning basket that opens and closes.
Why buy one? If you have large-sized food or a lot of food to be steamed at the same time, you will need one of these to put in the bottom of a large pan.
How to use: Place the steamer in the bottom of a large pan and pour water into the pan until it almost touches the bottom of steamer. Put the food into the steamer, cover well, and heat. Check that the water has not all evaporated as it boils, adding more as necessary.
Thermometer, meat (Termometro)
Best for: Cooking meat, particularly large joints or whole poultry.
How to buy: Look for an accurate thermometer.
Traditional: The traditional thermometer has a metal prong with a glass dial. Most are designed to remain in the meat throughout cooking.
Digital: The digital thermometer has a metal prong on a wire which leads to a digital display. In ‘instant-read’ thermometers, the prong is inserted in the meat during cooking to let you know whether it’s done. In other models, the display is connected to a stiff metal prong by a flexible wire which lets it stay outside the oven for continuous temperature monitoring. This type of thermometer has the benefit of allowing you to see the meat’s current temperature without opening and closing the oven, which will temporarily lower the oven’s temperature. It also typically has a timer which goes off when the appropriate temperature is reached. Look for digital thermometers with easy-to-use buttons, easy-to-read displays, the ability to measure in both Fahrenheit and Celsius , and the ability to set the temperature you require (do not rely on factory settings for different meat or the meat will be overcooked).
The digital thermometer is more convenient than traditional models but also more expensive. Both work fine. There are also infrared/laser thermometers which some people like but are considered to be inaccurate as they measure only the surface temperature.
Why buy one? Highly useful to avoid overcooking or under cooking meat (with its risk of food poisoning). I use both digital and traditional thermometers. The digital thermometer keeps me up to date about how quickly the meat is cooking, and the traditional thermometer checks the temperature as I find it is often more precise.
How to use: Place the prong into the meat and read the display. For digital thermometers, set the desired temperature and wait for the meat’s temperature to match it.
Thermometer, oven (Termometro da forno)
Best for: Measuring the accuracy of your oven.
How to Buy: An oven thermometer sits or hangs on one of the oven’s racks and measures the oven’s temperature.
Why buy one? Over time, you will figure out if your oven is too hot or too cold. This thermometer will ensure you don’t need to guess and will save you from culinary disasters.
How to use: Set the oven to 200˚C and place the thermometer in the oven. If the thermometer displays a different temperature, adjust your oven accordingly. For example, if the oven is set to 200˚C and the thermometer registers 210˚C you’ll need to deduct 10˚C from the temperature when setting the oven. If the oven is set to 200˚C and the thermometer measures 190˚C you’ll need to add 10˚C to the temperature when setting the oven.
Best for: This type of thermometer can go to very high temperatures and can accurately tell you when your sugar or fat is ready. There are many types: glass, metal-encased thermometers, digital, and laser.
How to buy: Buy one that is easy to use, easy to read, and is accurate.
Glass: This is the traditional type. I like thermometers that are encased in metal and can clip to the side of the pan so they don’t slide around. Buy one with prominent markings for the temperature that also highlights temperatures for candy and chocolate making. See what the highest temperature the thermometer can register. This is typically 200-290˚C (400-550˚F). Check the length of the thermometer (usually 20-30 cm) and see (A) how it fits with the pan you would use for sugar-making/deep-frying and (B) how the clip would fit with that pan. If the thermometer casing reaches below the thermometer tip, check the distance from the bottom of the thermometer casing to the tip of the thermometer. If you are making a small batch of something, it will be difficult to get the tip into the sugar while the casing touches the bottom of the pan.
Digital: There are now digital candy/deep-fryer thermometers that beep when the desired temperature is achieved.
Laser: These are unreliable.
Why buy one? For heating sugar, this thermometer is essential as sugar passes through various stages of crystallisation relatively quickly and the thermometer will indicate those exact stages. (Note that the exact temperature for each stage will vary according to altitude.) For deep-frying, the optimal temperature is 190˚C/375˚F. At this point the food seals properly, keeping the juices in and preventing the oil from being absorbed by the food. Thermometers are excellent for saving time: if you get the temperature wrong you could be starting all over again. Even worse, you could start a fire.
How to use: Test your thermometer in boiling water to see if it registers 100˚C/212˚F. If it is above or below 100˚C, then register the difference and add or subtract this number when using the thermometer. (If it says water boils at 110˚C and you want to achieve 190˚C, use 200˚C instead (110˚-100˚)+190˚.) Warm glass thermometers in hot water before adding to the sugar or fat to prevent cracking. Keep the rounded tip submerged in the sugar or fat but ensure that it is not touching the bottom of the pan as you want the temperature of the contents not the pan. Watch the mercury line to see what temperature it has reached.
Care: Use carefully as glass is fragile. The mercury inside the thermometer is poisonous so discard any contaminated food if the thermometer breaks. Be careful washing the thermometer as it can break if the water is too hot. To dissolve any sugar attached to the thermometer after use, soak it in warm water before washing. For digital thermometers, only wash the probe.
Best for: Timing the cooking of food (particularly in the oven). Timers are good for roasting nuts or seeds, baking cakes or pastries, boiling eggs, and grilling or roasting vegetables or meats.
How to buy: There are sand timers, mechanical timers, and digital timers. For reasons listed below, I prefer the digital timer. Make sure you buy one that you can set to the minute. Check the maximum amount of time you can set, and buy one with an alarm to alert you when the time is up.
The sand timer: The sand timer is in theory also a mechanical timer. It tends to be hourglass-shaped and have plastic or glass encasing the sand.
Pros: The only benefit is that it doesn’t require batteries so it won’t slow down over time or stop working.
Cons: You can’t see accurately how much time has passed or how much time is left. You also can’t set it to a specific time and there is no alarm to alert you that time has run out.
Mechanical timer: These traditionally were mechanical with an adjustable dial used primarily for boiling eggs. Nowadays digital egg timers exist which can accurately calculate the time required to boil an egg depending on the temperature of the water (thereby adjusting for altitude).
Pros: Mechanical timers are good because they don’t require batteries and have a visible dial so you can see how much time is left. There is an alarm to alert you that the time is up.
Cons: Typically these timers cannot be set for more than one hour.
Pros: Digital timers allow you to set them for multiple hours and exact minutes. They can show you how much time has elapsed and how much time is left. They have alarms to alert you when the time is up.
Cons: They require batteries and can slow down or stop over time. They are slightly more expensive than mechanical timers.
Why buy one? When you are cooking multiple dishes or dishes that take a long time, it is easy to forget and overcook food. When you are cooking something in batches, like cookies, it is easiest to bake them uniformly if you use a timer.
How to use: Set the timer for the desired time and wait for the time to elapse.
Best for: Transferring or turning hot or small food, or fishing food out of hot oil or liquid.
How to buy: Tongs can be made of plastic, nylon, cast iron, wood, steel, stainless steel, and silicone coated metal. The tips can be straight, scalloped, or serrated. I prefer metal tongs about 35 cm long with wide, concave, scalloped tips and a comfortable heat-proof handle with a lock (for more convenient storage).
Why buy one? Tongs are my favourite utensil in the kitchen. Chopsticks are great for small pieces of food but only tongs are good enough when it comes to moving big pieces of meat or twirling pasta.
How to use: Place the scalloped tips around the food, squeeze shut the tongs, move the food, and release.
Whisk (Frusta/Frusta da cucina)
Best for: Whipping eggs, beating cream, and blending sauces. Whisks are used to beat air into food – as when you’re whipping egg whites – or to emulsify ingredients such as mayonnaise.
How to buy: Look for whisks that are sturdy and well-balanced, and have comfortable handles. They are also made from metal coated with silicone to protect non-stick pans but look for whisks that are lightly coated so the wires are not too thick. Whisks come in a several varieties but there are three main types.
Balloon whisk: Has loops of stainless steel wire with a handle. It is better for foams. This is my personal favourite.
Rotary whisk/egg beaters: Have two egg beaters churned together by a hand crank called ‘frullino a mano’ in Italian.
Flat coil whisk: has a ”U” shaped wire with a coil around it. It is better for sauces and is also useful for removing lumps.
Why buy one? This is an essential piece of kitchen equipment for baking and making sauces.
How to use: Place the whisk in the food and start quickly making an ‘8’ pattern.
Wine opener/Corkscrew (Cavatappi/Stappabottiglie/Cavaturaccioli)
Handheld corkscrew/Waiters’ friend/Barman’s friend
Best for: Opening bottles with corks in them.
How to buy: There are many different types: levered, screw-topped, hand-held screw, and pronged openers. They can be made out of metal, plastic, or wood. Look for a corkscrew that has a handle that fits comfortably in your hand and where the handle is well connected to the corkscrew. The screw should be long enough to thread through the whole cork, and be well constructed so that the corkscrew does not bend out of shape, moves fluidly, and works well on all types of cork. (I have never used a pronged opener so I won’t comment on it.) I like the hand-held corkscrew called a waiter’s friend: it takes up less room in the drawer, rarely breaks, and has a handy knife on it for cutting through the plastic or metal ‘capsule’ covering the cork and neck of the bottle. Some of the levered corkscrews come with separate cutters but these always get lost in the depths of the drawer, never in sight when you need them. The levered ones are much easier to use however, requiring less strength to operate (particularly with synthetic corks). (I don’t understand the screw topped corkscrew so I won’t comment on that either!)
Why buy one? It is really difficult to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. (I did have a friend at university who could remove a cork which had fallen into the bottle with a shoelace….but he would end up with wine on the ceiling..!)
How to use: Depends on the model, for screw tops, place the corkscrew over the bottle top, screw the cork down, and then pull up to remove the cork. For levered, clamp the handles over the top of the bottle or the barrel of the corkscrew over the top of the bottle, lower the middle lever, and pull it back up to remove the cork. For a waiter’s friend, use the knife to cut away the foil, place the corkscrew in the middle of the cork, turn to thread the corkscrew through the cork, place the metal ledge on the tip of the bottle, and pull the handle up to remove the cork.
Wine caps/Wine stoppers (Chiusure per bottiglie)
How to buy: These can be made from plastic, rubber, cork or metal. They can be any shape. Generally look for one that creates a really tight seal on the bottle as the point is to keep air out. There is a variation for champagne bottles with two clamps that come down over the lip on top of the bottle to keep the bubbles from escaping. Some, like the rubber Vacu Vin stoppers, enable you to extract any air in the top of the bottle so the wine does not oxidise.
Why buy one? They are cheap and they keep the wine in good condition (for a day or two) if you can’t finish the bottle.
How to use: Just place the stopper over the bottle opening, press down, and place in the refrigerator.
Wire rack (Griglia/ Graticola)
Best for: Cooking meat and vegetables above the surface of the pan and cooking liquid.
How to buy: Wire racks are made from metal. Look for one whose wires that are not too widely spaced and whose feet lift it from the pan’s surface. It should fit on your baking sheet without overhang.
Why buy one? If you roast meat, it is very useful to have one. You can cut lengths of carrot and leek and place them under the roast to lift the meat from the pan, but this is not as effective as using a rack.
How to use: Just place in a roasting tin and follow the recipe.
Wooden spoon (Cucchiaio di legno)
Best for: Everything. But in particular for making sauces, stirring polenta or semolina, making custard, beating batters, mixing ingredients, etc.
How to buy: The wood should be close grained for durability. The handle should be longer than your pot is tall, fit comfortably in your hand, and have a thin but large bowl to stir effectively and reach the corners of the pot.
Why buy one? Wooden spoons have a coarser surface texture than metal or plastic which is an advantage for some sauces and making polenta. In making custards it is vital to see if the custard coats the spoon. Wood does not conduct heat so your hands will not burn. Wood also doesn’t scrape or damage non-stick pans. They are good for mashing soft food and they are cheap. The only potential problems with them are that they are porous and therefore absorb flavours and can burn.
How to use: Put in the pot and stir.
SPECIALITY PASTA, PASTRY, AND BREAD MAKING TOOLS
Cooling rack for baking (Griglietta/Brillantiera/Griglia per glassare)
Best for: Cooling pastries, cookies, cakes, and breads.
How to buy: Cooling racks are made from metal and are made in single layers or multi-tiers. They can also come with a non-stick finish. Look for racks with a large surface area, that are easy to clean and stable, and whose grills are uniform and not too widely spaced.
Why buy one? Baked goods need to cool on a wire rack so that the air can circulate or else the food can become soft on the bottom and/or sides, and steam will condense inside cakes making them heavy.
How to use: Transfer the food to the cooling rack after baking and allow to cool.
Dough scraper (Raschietti da pasta/Foglia di plastica)
Best for: Working pastry and cleaning bowls and work surfaces, cutting dough and gnocchi.
How to buy: These come in plastic, silicone, and metal. They need to be stiff enough to give resistance to the mixture but flexible enough to meet the contours of the bowl. They can be straight or contoured and be smooth or have a grip. Some have a rolled or raised end for better grip. I prefer plastic or silicone which are contoured and offer good grip.
Why buy one? They are cheap and make life easy.
How to use: For scraping, line the curved edge up with the bowl or work surface and scrape. For working pastry scoop some pastry with the scraper, deposit it on the far side of the bowl, and scrape down the middle and sides to blend the ingredients, repeat.
Flour sifter (Setaccio)
Best for: Sifting flour, sugar, breadcrumbs, grated cheese, and cocoa powder, or puréeing vegetables and fruit.
How to buy: Flour sifters come in many forms. Traditionally they were wooden or metal rings with silk, nylon, or metal mesh on one side. The mesh varies in size from 3 mm for fruit and vegetable purées or sifting flour and sugar to 5 mm for flouring fish and sifting breadcrumbs and grated cheese.
Why buy one? You can use the fine wire mesh of your sieve, but some people prefer to have a separate sifter for pastry. I usually use my sieve but I do have a flour sifter, which I use when my three-year-old son is cooking as it contains the mess.
How to use: Fill the sifter and start tapping the sides to sift.
Ice cream scoop (Paletta da gelato/Porzionatore per gelato)
Best for: Scooping ice cream, potato purée, and vegetable purée.
How to buy: Ice cream scoops are made from metal or plastic and have a thick handle with a deep bowl on the head. Some have a metal blade that sweeps inside the bowl of the scoop to release the ice cream ball more easily. There are also scoops with defrosting fluid in the handle which heats with your hand to scoop hard-frozen ice cream (this should not go into the dishwasher). The handle should fit comfortably in your hand, the edge of the scoop should be thin to easily cut through the ice cream, and the head should be clean and round.
Why buy one? Using a normal dinner spoon will get you slivers of ice cream which melt relatively quickly. A scoop produces attractive balls of ice cream that do not melt as quickly, allowing you time to serve and enjoy it.
How to use: Dip the ice cream scoop into warm water, shake dry, scoop through the ice cream, scraping a few times to form a ball, and if your scoop has the blade, squeeze the handle to release the ball. Repeat.
Kitchen twine/Trussing string (Spago da cucina)
Best for: Tying up whole birds, rolled meat, and large cuts of meat.
How to buy: The string should be strong, un-dyed, and not coated with plastic. String sometimes comes in a container that lets you easily distribute the string without unravelling. Don’t buy string that is too thin as it needs to firmly hold the meat without cutting it.
Why buy one? You will need clean string that doesn’t taint the food to cook large pieces of meat or whole chickens or turkeys. Ask your butcher to do this, if you prefer.
How to use: See the how-to section on trussing.
Mixing bowl (Scodella/Bacinella bombata/Bastardella)
Best for: Mixing ingredients, marinating meat, stirring batters and dough, soaking vegetables, beating, cooking, and reducing cream, making mayonnaise, beating eggs, and using as a bain-marie.
How to buy: Bowls come in glass, ceramic, plastic, copper, stainless steel and wood. They vary enormously in size. Buy several sizes that nest inside each other for easy storage. It is best to have mixing bowls that are heatproof, ovenproof, deep; they should semi-spherical, non-porous (so they don’t absorb stains and odours), unbreakable, easy to scrape and stable so they don’t move around the countertop. Having two handles can make the bowl easier to use. Non-metal bowls can go in the microwave oven. Bowls with a silicone coating on the bottom can provide stability. You will also want a metal bowl that conducts heat for foods that need to be heated or cooled over water. I have a large assortment of bowls.
Why buy one? It’s difficult to mix ingredients in pans as they don’t have rounded bottoms. Bowls can also be used on top of pans to form a bain-marie.
How to use: As per the recipe. If you want to stabilise your bowl, dampen a tea towel and twist it into a circle to form a nest for the bowl.
Palette knife/Metal spatula (Spatola)
Best for: Icing cakes, spreading filling or glazes, or portioning food.
How to buy: Palette knives are made straight or offset. They have a handle with a long flat blade with a rounded tip. They range from 10 to 12.5 cm long and are 6-18 mm wide with dull edges.
Why buy one? They make these tasks easier.
How to use: Put some of the icing, filling, or glaze on the cake and use the palette knife to spread. For portioning, cut the food with a knife, slide the palette knife underneath to lift, and serve.
Passatelli maker (Ferro per passatelli)
Best for: Making passatelli.
How to buy: A passatelli maker is an artisanal instrument comprising a slightly curved tinned iron or stainless steel disc 15 cm in diameter with 4-5 mm perforations and two wooden handles on each end.
Why buy one? You don’t need one if you have a colander or a potato ricer with wide enough perforations to push the passatelli dough through.
How to use: Press the passatelli disc down onto the dough and use a dough scraper to cut the dough when long enough.
Pasta ‘guitar’ (Chitarra)
Best for: Making maccheroni alla chitarra (a square edged spaghetti from southern Italy)
How to buy: A pasta guitar is an instrument from Abruzzo and other southern regions for making a special type of pasta. It is a rectangular wooden frame with thin metal cords spaced 3-4 mm apart.
Why buy one? You will only need this tool if you want to make maccheroni alla chitarra.
How to use: Place your pasta over the cords and use a rolling pin to press the pasta down and cut it.
Pasta machine (Macchina per pasta/Tirasfoglia/Sfogliatrice)
Best for: Making fresh pasta of various shapes; can be used to roll pastry for croissants and puff pastry; and for dumpling wrappers, noodles, and flatbreads.
How to buy: The best are made from chrome-plated steel with stainless steel rollers ranging from 12-22 cm wide. Look for one of sturdy construction that attaches firmly to your work surface, turns easily and smoothly, has a comfortable, easy-to-grip handle, as well as many settings for rolling the pasta to different thicknesses. Make sure your pasta machine has an attachment for cutting long pasta. There are several varieties but generally 1.5 mm wide is for capellini, 4 mm is for trenette, and 8 mm is for tagliatelle. Pasta machines also are made successfully in electric versions.
Why buy one? Unless you are strong or have made fresh pasta regularly for years, it is difficult to make pasta easily without this machine.
How to use: Cut your prepared pasta dough into four pieces and roll it through the widest setting on the machine, fold over into thirds, turn it 90 degrees, roll it again on the widest setting, and repeat 6 times. Do the same on the next setting but 5 times, then do the next setting 3 times, and cut the dough in half. Roll all subsequent settings only once and do not fold. Keep all pieces of pasta under a damp towel so they don’t dry out.
Pastry board (Spianatoia)
Best for: Pasta, bread, and pastry.
How to buy: Pastry boards can be made of plastic, wood or marble. Look for a large surface which is cool, non-porous, smooth and easy to clean. They can be flat or have edges to provide stability on the work surface. They are not made to be chopped on. I have a marble board which is fantastic for keeping pastry cool. Pasta is often made on wooden boards.
Why buy one? You don’t need one but you will need a non-porous surface which does not absorb flavours. A surface to your pastry cold is helpful but you can also keep refrigerating it as you work.
How to use: Clean and dry the board and it’s ready to use.
Pastry nozzles (Bocchette)
Best for: Piping meringues or decorating cakes.
How to buy: Pastry nozzles are made in plastic or metal and come in a set with different sizes with round, star shaped, or flat zig-zag openings. I prefer the plastic as the metal rusts in damp climates.
Why buy one? They are great for decorating.
How to use: A nozzle is fitted to the opening in the tip of a pastry bag; the contents are added, and the large opening folded and twisted to apply pressure to extrude the contents.
Piping bag/Pastry bag (Tasca per decorazione/Sacca da pasticciere/Sac à poche)
Best for: Piping choux pastry, meringues, or decorating cakes.
How to buy: These are flexible cone-shaped bags made out of nylon, paper or fabric (usually coated with nylon or silicone). I buy either disposable paper ones or nylon as the fabric ones get mouldy in damp climates.
Why buy one? You can make these out of baking paper but they are much less stable and unlikely to hold a nozzle. See the ‘How to’ section.
How to use: A nozzle is fitted to the opening in the tip and the contents are added, and the large opening folded and twisted to apply pressure to extrude the contents.
Pizza peel (Pala piatta per pizza)
Best for: Making pizza and breads.
How to buy: A pizza peel is a flat paddle on the end of a long stick. The paddle is made of metal or wood but the stick is normally made of wood. The length of the stick is determined by the depth of the oven you are using. The very long ones are for brick ovens.
Why buy one? They help a lot in transferring pizzas without disturbing the toppings. You can, however, just place the pizza on parchment paper and move it that way, or use a floured upside-down baking sheet, though that is more awkward.
How to use: The professionals flour the peel, make the pizza, run the peel under the pizza, and shake the pizza off into the oven with a flick of the wrist. To remove the pizza from the oven, run the peel under the pizza, and transfer to cutting board. If the pizza sticks to the peel with the flour, use parchment paper with the peel.
Spaghetti server/Pasta fork/Pasta ladle (Mestolo per pasta)
Best for: Serving, separating, and tossing pasta.
How to buy: These are large perforated spoons with prongs radiating from the edges of the spoon to grab the pasta. They come in plastic, nylon, bamboo and metal. I prefer the metal one. Look for servers that are long enough to fish out pasta from your deepest pasta pot without letting your hand touch the boiling water. They should have large spoon heads and a comfortable handle that does not get hot.
Why buy one? Not completely necessary, but they make it easier to handle pasta, particularly long pasta. Pasta tongs are also good.
How to use: Grab some pasta with the spoon and toss or transfer it.
SPECIALITY FISH TOOLS
Fish slice/Slotted turner (Paletta con fori per pesce)
Best for: Turning and moving fish and transferring vegetables and pastry.
How to buy: Look for a well-constructed fish slice that won’t fall apart but has some flexibility in the blade to move delicate items. They come in lengths from 15-28 cm; shorter is better. Look for a handle that fits well in your hand and does not slip.
Why buy one? They make the job of turning fish easier as the fish is less likely to break apart.
How to use: Hold the handle firmly in your hand and slide fully under the fish; lift and turn or transfer it.
Seafood crackers with tweezers/Lobster pincer (Pinza per astice)
Best for: Cracking and extracting the meat from lobsters and crabs, particularly the legs.
How to buy: These come in stainless steel and need to be heavy enough to crack hard shells. They should be comfortable in your hand and open and close easily. The pick or tweezers should be fine enough to fit into long narrow crevices like the legs with a fork on the end to help grip and extract the meat.
Why buy one? For serving lobsters whole or halved it is essential to provide this utensil so that diners can maintain their dignity while extracting the meat from the shell.
How to use: Place the lobster between the two arms and squeeze shut to crack the shell. Insert the pincer into the shell and pull the meat out.
Best for: Grilling and smoking food.
How to buy: The two major types are gas and charcoal. Gas is infinitely easier to use and clean but requires buying gas cylinders. Charcoal is messier, more difficult and time consuming, and requires a greater mastery of technique – but food cooked with charcoal tastes better. Look for a barbecue with a large grill surface so that you can make one side hotter than the other. It is better if the height of the grill can be adjusted and, if you’ve bought the charcoal type, has a hinge to make it easy to add more charcoal. Look for a lid that is deep and fits over the food to trap the heat and smoke. The lid should seal tightly to keep the smoke inside. Barbecues that have tabletops attached are very helpful when preparing food. A barbecue should also have an ash collector underneath that is easy to clean.
Why buy one? The taste of barbecued food is incomparable. It is also an enjoyable way to cook.
How to use: Heat the grill either by turning on the gas and igniting or setting up your wood or charcoal and lighting it. Cook the food as indicated in the recipe.
Basting brush (Pennello per condimenti)
Best for: Keeping barbecued meats juicy.
How to buy: Look for basting brushes with long handles to keep your hand cool and with flexible bristles which gently brush the food and evenly distribute the marinade. Bristles come in silicone, nylon, and boar hair. I like silicone because it doesn’t absorb the sauce and is easy to clean. Some basting brushes now come with bottle attachments for the handle to fill with your sauce so there is no need to dip the brush in a separate bowl. If you buy one of these, ensure the bottle is easy to squeeze but doesn’t spray.
Why buy one? You may want one to baste evenly while the barbecue is on and not burn yourself. You can use an ordinary brush (see above), but the handle may be too short for comfort.
How to use: Dip the brush in the sauce and apply to the food. If the brush comes with a bottle, fill it and squeeze while brushing the food.
Fish grill (Griglia pesce)
Best for: Grilling fish on the barbecue so that it doesn’t stick and is attractively presented.
How to buy: Look for a fish grill that has a removable handle so it can sit flat. It should be able to accommodate the largest fish you will grill, and have heavy-gauge wire closely spaced so that smaller fish don’t slip out. Some have non-stick finishes.
Why buy one? It makes grilling whole fish so easy.
How to use: I salt the outside of the prepared fish first, place in inside the basket, close the basket, and lock it. Place the fish on the prepared grill (and remove the handle if possible) until cooked on one side and then turn it until cooked. Reattach the handle, pick up the fish grill and remove it to a platter. Open the fish grill and invert the fish onto the plate.
Grill grid (Griglia/Gratella/Graticola)
How to buy: Grill grids come as interlaced wire to form a mesh or as a perforated plate or basket. They are made either from porcelain-coated metal or from stainless steel, sometimes with a non-stick finish. They can also come in the form of two grids which lock closed, a single grid, or a basket. I have the coated-metal mesh basket with a removable wooden handle but the perforated plate also works well. The handle should be comfortable to hold and not get hot; a removable handle is preferable.
Why buy one? It is really difficult to grill small food like sliced vegetables, squid, small fish, and prawns without one. You will lose half your food to the grill.
How to use: Arrange the food in the grid and place on the grill.
Smoking box (Affumicatore)
Best for: Smoking meat, fish, or cheese.
How to buy: Smoking boxes are usually made from cast iron or stainless steel. Look for one that is heavy-gauge and easy to fill, empty and clean. I have one in cast iron that smokes the wood chips well and doesn’t get too hot.
Why buy one? It makes it much easier to smoke food.
How to use: Soak your wood chips, drain, place in the smoking box, close, and place on your grill.
Best for: Spit-roasting meat.
How to buy: Spit-roasters are generally stainless steel rods with a plastic or wooden handle. Plastic can snap or melt and wood can scorch or catch fire. Make sure that the spit-roast attaches securely to your barbecue. Look for those that seem stable and sturdy, are easily assembled, and have an adjustable tray. Four meat prongs are much better than two for keeping the meat in place, balancing it, and spacing it. The motor can be either battery or mains powered (better if your barbecue is near an electrical outlet). Check what weight the spit-roaster can accommodate to ensure you can roast heavy joints of meat.
Why buy one? An excellent way to slow roast meat so it remains juicy. The cooking juices rotate with the meat, thus helping to keep the meat moist. Since the meat rotates itself it also frees you to work on the rest of the meal.
How to use: Set up your spit-roaster on the barbecue and prepare your fire. Thread the prepared meat through the prongs, attach the prongs securely to the brackets, and turn on.
How to buy: Look for tongs which are sturdy and open wide enough to handle a whole spatchcock chicken. They should open and close easily, be comfortable to hold in your hand, and lock closed for easy storage. The tongs should be long enough to keep your hands from the heat. Mine are about 40 cm long. Different tong tips exist: straight, serrated, pincers, and scalloped.
Why buy one? If you are barbecuing you need tongs.
How to use: Release the lock, open the tongs, place the tips around the food, squeeze closed, transfer the food, and open to release the food.
Best for: Puréeing or liquefying vegetables, beans, or soups; making baby food; emulsifying sauces such as mayonnaise or pesto; or mixing drinks.
How to buy: A blender has a base housing a motor and a glass, plastic, or stainless steel jar with a lid on top and blades in the base. There are two schools of thought about traditional blenders: either buy the expensive, powerful blender that will last longer, or the cheaper blender which won’t last long (because the motor gives out). With the environment in mind, I endorse buying the expensive blender, though it may not last much longer than the other. Either way, look for a blender with the blades set low in the container so you can purée small amounts if needed. Buy the largest blender possible because you can only fill it halfway or the contents may spray. The container should be clear and made out of toughened glass or heavyweight plastic (make sure it isn’t thin or it will crack). The lid should have a removable plug or handle which allows you to add more liquid while the machine is running.
Why buy one? If you need to purée something quite liquid, you will need a blender. Food processors will spill the contents if they are too liquid and don’t produce as fine a purée. Blenders are versatile and can be used for a variety of tasks.
How to use: Place the food into the blender, ensure the lid is tightly fit, and turn it to the desired speed. Don’t fill more than 2/3 full when using.
Bread machine (Macchina del pane)
How to buy: Look for a bread machine that is compact, lets you set the timer so it can bake overnight, allows you to use different types of dough, and has a compartment for nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to be added automatically later in the process. The bread basket should be easy to put in and remove, easy to operate, and easy to clean.
Why buy one? This machine can produce freshly baked bread ‘straight out of the oven’ when you wake up. It takes five minutes to add the ingredients and turn on. The machine is easy to wash. The bread may not be as good as bread from a bakery but it’s more convenient. You can also mix and knead the dough in the machine, finish it by hand and bake it in the oven.
How to use: Measure the ingredients into the compartment in the order required. Turn on the machine, set the timer and wait.
How to buy: Look for an electric, thermostatically controlled deep-fryer with a lid that also has an accurate temperature indicator to tell you when the desired temperature has been reached. It should have a non-stick lining that is easy to clean. It should be easy to fill and drain, and have a wide, shallow stainless steel wire mesh basket to lift out of and lower into the fat. Look for a basket with handles that clip to the fryer so that fat can drain back into the fryer. The temperature should be able to be held constant and to reheat quickly after the food is introduced. Some deep-fryers have a rotating basket or blow the oil around to reduce the amount of oil needed. I have the blower type that has a rotating paddle which works well for being low fat, but the paddle crushes softer food and you can’t fry battered food in it.
Why buy one? They are safer than a heavy-bottomed pot with a deep-frying thermometer as the heating element is enclosed, and only goes to the selected temperature – and then holds at that temperature. The lid and filter contain the smell of deep-frying. It’s only a good idea if you deep-fry a lot, however; otherwise it is not worth the extra counter space. I wouldn’t buy another one as I rarely deep-fry food.
How to use: Fill the machine with oil and turn on to the desired temperature. Fill the basket with food and lower into the oil. Remove when cooked, allow the basket to rest above the deep-fryer so the oil drains back inside.
Espresso machine (Macchina da espresso/Macchina da caffè)
Best for: Making espresso and espresso based drinks.
How to buy: The most beautiful espresso machines are often difficult to use, clean, and maintain. Nespresso have come up with a great solution to the problem with their Nespresso pods which taste great but which some people say are not environmentally sound. Many Italians, in secret, have admitted to me that they like Nespresso, but of course they prefer to go to their favourite coffee bar.
Why buy one? Sometimes the coffee bar is closed or seems impossibly far away.
How to use: I can’t tell you how to work a real espresso machine despite having watched them myself millions of times. My guess is that it’s like riding a bicycle, much more difficult than it appears. The Nespresso machine, which I openly admit to adoring, is so simple my 18-month-old son makes cappuccino in it (closely supervised of course!) Turn the machine on, if using frothed milk (cappuccino has more froth than milk while latte has more milk) turn on the frother and wait for the yellow light to be constant, place the milk under the frother and turn on until the milk is the temperature and has the amount of froth you are happy with. Open the compartment and place a Nespresso pod in the chamber and close it. Turn on the coffee until you are happy with the amount and turn off. Add the coffee to the milk.
Food processor/Magimix/Robocoup (Cutter/Tritaverdure elettrico/Robot da cucina/Trittatutto)
Best for: Great for chopping, slicing, grating, puréeing, blending, emulsifying, and mincing large amounts of pretty much anything: dough, cheese, vegetables, meat, nuts, fruit, etc. It is not great for whipping eggs or cream (use a mixer or a whisk) or for fine puréeing (use a blender).
How to buy: The base houses a motor with a removable bowl that encases a blade and has a lid. It should come with different discs for cutting, grating or mixing. Choose a model with a heavy-duty motor and a circuit breaker to stop it from overheating. Find one with a large bowl as it cannot be filled completely and still function properly. Find one that is unlikely to leak when pulsing liquid and with a sturdy bowl so it doesn’t shatter if you drop it. The base should have rubber on the feet so it doesn’t move when turned on. Nearly all food processors have a feed tube in the lid with an attachment to force objects through it onto the spinning blade, and allow for operation either by on-off pulsing or running the motor continually. Small plastic parts should be easily cleaned and able to go into the dishwasher. Some have attachments you can buy that will squeeze citrus fruit, grind coffee, make fresh pasta (I personally would not use this), and grind meat.
Why buy one? This machine can save you lots of time and effort.
How to use: Assemble the machine, place your food inside, attach the lid, and turn on.
Handheld blender/Immersion blender/Stick blender/Hand blender/Burr mixer (Mixer ad immersione/Mixer a mano/Mini pimmer)
Best for: Puréeing vegetables, beans, or soups, or making baby food. Handheld blenders are particularly useful as you can purée the soup while it is in the pan, saving time and effort cleaning.
How to buy: Handheld blenders consist of a top motor shaft which extends down in to a plastic or metal stick with a small blender at the end. Some have interchangeable ends which may include a whisk and a container with a rotating blade (similar to a mini food processor). Check the parts where the attachment meets the motor to ensure they are a durable material as this is the part that breaks first. Look for one with the strongest motor possible and which has a variable speed option that you can easily change with your thumb. The plastic ones can stain and crack whereas the stainless steel ones are not porous and are more durable. Be sure they are easy to clean and can go in the dishwasher. (The handle with its motor should not go in the dishwasher, of course.)
Why buy one? Handheld blenders can be used for a variety of tasks. Some come with a whisk attachment you can use for whipping eggs, batters, and cream, and a food processor attachment that can be used for chopping almost everything. They save time compared to hand chopping. For soups and sauces, the texture is different than using a food mill and generally speaking, the texture from the food mill is preferable but the process is more time consuming. I use my handheld blender or one of its attachments every day.
How to use: Place in a large, deep cup or tall pot, ensuring it is completely immersed, and turn on.
Hand mixer (Frullino elettrico/Frusta electtrica)
Best for: Beats, whips, or mixes sauces, batters, cream, gelato base, and eggs. Not good for dough or heavy-duty items. Mix these by hand or use a standing mixer.
How to buy: Buy a hand mixer with a quiet, heavy-duty motor and variable speed buttons which are easily controlled with your thumb while holding the handle. There should be a release button for the beaters so they can be removed easily and washed. Look for slim wire beaters.
Why buy one? It is better than whisking by hand but only has one function. It’s handy for mixing over a pan on the stove top. If you cannot afford a standing mixer buy a hand mixer. The hand blender with the whisk attachment can take light jobs like whipping egg whites and creams but cannot handle heavier batters, which this one can. Bread dough can only be done in the standing mixer, however.
How to use: Attach the beaters, dip the beaters into the liquid, and turn on. Keep the beaters on the bottom of the bowl so they don’t spray liquid everywhere.
Ice cream maker (Gelatiera/Macchina da gelato)
Best for: Making ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and ices.
How to buy: Buy an electric machine with an integral compressor and freezer. It should be capable of making a large quantity. Other qualities to look for: speedy and quiet operation, agitating enough to break up ice crystals, a timer, and blades that allow you to add fruit directly to the machine. (I have the cheap rotation-motor type which is inconvenient because you have to remember to put the chamber into the freezer a few days in advance. It works well, however.)
Why buy one? Necessary if you want to make ice cream, gelato, and sorbet.
How to use: Prepare your mixture, cool it, and add it to the machine; turn on.
Meat grinder (Tritacarne)
Best for: Grinding meat for meat sauce, meatballs, meat loaves, patties, etc. Stuffing sausages. My mother also uses it to grind chillies for hot sauce.
How to buy: Meat grinders have a feed tray and a separate pusher to feed meat into the chamber, and should come with discs that grind the meat in different sizes. Meat grinders can be hand cranked or electric. My mother would be upset if I told you to buy an electric one but that’s what I would buy. (She also cries as she hand-cranks the chillies for her hot sauce.) If you buy the hand-cranked grinder, make sure it can attach firmly to your table top and be prepared for it to jam occasionally. They are made of plastic, metal, or a combination. Metal is better for durability, and should be easier to operate: they shouldn’t jam too much and the crank should be comfortable to use. They should be easy to clean (ideally able to go in the dishwasher) and care for (some need to be oiled).
Why buy one? You can achieve the perfect texture by grinding meat yourself, and also be sure of exactly what is in your ground meat. Alternatively, you can put the meat into your food processor and pulse it a few times but the resulting texture is not the same.
How to use: Select the die you want and attach it to the grinder. Generally, a 1.5-2 mm die is good for pâté, 4.5 mm is ideal for ragù (meat sauce), and 8 mm is best for lardo. Place the meat into the chopper and turn it on (or start cranking).
Standing mixer (Impastatrice domestica/Planetaria)
Best For: Great for mixing, beating, whipping, or kneading batter and dough for cakes, tarts, bread, etc. Very good for mixing sauces, batters, crushing fruit, and whipping eggs or cream.
How to buy: A standing mixer is an electric machine with a motor which overhangs a bowl with a 5-38 litre capacity. Look for a mixer with a heavy-duty motor and a 4 to 5 litre capacity stainless steel or toughened glass bowl. There should be three attachments: a whisk, a thicker metal beater, and a dough hook. Ensure that when the mixer is on, the attachment reaches right down to the bottom of the bowl. This guarantees that the contents are evenly mixed and enables the mixer to work even a small amount of liquid. There should be controls for varying the speed and the base should have rubber feet to keep the machine from moving around. There are two types of standing mixer: those in which the beaters stay in place and the bowl rotates, and those in which the bowl is stationary while the beaters move. Some models can adjust the beater height so that you can better incorporate the ingredients. Some have splash guards, timers, fold functions and counter grips. Some also have attachments for grinding sausages or mince, making pasta (I do not recommend this) or ice cream, extracting juice, slicing potatoes, and grinding coffee. Buy only the attachments you will actually use – and make sure that the motor is capable of handling these functions.
Why buy one? These machines save a great deal of time and effort. There are many recipes you won’t bother with unless you have one. They are expensive, however, so purchase only if you will use it frequently.
How to use: Add your ingredients to the bowl, attach the bowl to the mixer, attach the attachment you prefer to work with, put the bowl in position, and turn on.