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Batteria da cucina

May 20th, 2009
Robert Arbor, chef, restaurant owner and author of Joie de Vivre

Robert Arbor, chef, restaurant owner and author of Joie de Vivre

I have a small, perfect kitchen with only the essentials. I don’t need much and I don’t want much.

Recently, my kitchen has been under construction and I have had to get back to basics in some areas. So far, I’m loving it. For instance, I haven’t had a microwave for months and have not missed it one iota. I went for weeks and weeks without my electric coffeemaker and loved using my moka pot or French press for my morning coffee. It tastes leagues better this way. I have a toaster on my counter and a Kitchen Aid mixer I keep under the sink, using it about once a week to bake biscotti and about once a year to make homemade pasta noodles. Other than that I have very basic supplies, pots and pans, wooden spoons, etc. I have modeled my kitchen after these three cooks. Note: And despite all three of them insisting on a food mill, I do not have one!

JOIE DE VIVRE by Robert Arbor

“It is not a good idea to purchase a lot of pots and pans and other equipment that you are not going to use,” Arbor writes. “There is no point in having every kind of cake accoutrement if you never bake cakes . . . I always feel sorry for newlyweds who get overwhelmed with too much kitchen stuff that they have no idea how to use. It is better to give them one good copper pot that they will use forever than a set of highly specialized chef’s knives that are just going to gather dust.

“You do not need to buy expensive items for cooking. I only suggest that you refrain from aluminum cookware because it reacts with wine, tomatoes, vinegar or anything acidic. Instead, go for stainless steel or cast iron. Pots and pans need to have thick bottoms and riveted handles, but you can find these even at the most reasonably priced houseware stores. A good, sturdy pot or pan will last for decades — and this is exactly why I don’t have any baking pans. I bake cakes about once every two or three years, and when I do, I just go to the grocery store and get a disposable cake pan. This being said, if you love to bake your grand-mere’s pound cake every Sunday morning, you should really buy yourself a nice loaf pan that will make you smile every time you look at it.”

 POTS AND PANS

“A basic family kitchen only needs three or maybe four pots. These should be made of heavy-duty stainless steel and should have lids. To cook most meals, a set of small, medium, and large — the exact size will be determined by how many people are in your family — will do the trick. The fourth pot can be an extra small pot for heating small amounts of milk, reheating leftovers, or poaching an egg. Or maybe you want a large pot — called a fait-tout — that holds about twelve quarts if you need to boil large amounts of pasta or make stock frequently.”

“. . . The basic pan supply should mirror your pot supply — you’ll need a small, a medium and a large. Pans should be made of stainless steel and lids are also very helpful.” (Arbor recommends nonstick)

“…Extra cooking vessels that you might want to buy could include a cocotte, a deep, oval casserole-type dish that can either go on the stove or in the oven. A cocotte, usually made of cast iron or enamel over cast iron, should have a heavy lid and is perfect for roasting a chicken, simmering a stew, or making a gratin. If your family enjoys a lot of hot drinks, a teakettle for boiling water looks nice and friendly sitting on the stove. If you find that you simply love to make chocolate souffle’s, then you will enjoy having a nice souffle pan. ”

HAND TOOLS

“By now you’ll guess that I don’t have a huge array of utensils for prepping and cooking. However, what I do have may surprise you. I have a three-inch paring knife, a large chef’s knife that doubles for chopping and carving, and a serrated knife for slicing bread … I have two white plastic cutting boards — one for meats and the other for everything else — at the ready. I prefer plastic plastic cutting boards rather than wood because they are much easier to clean. Also on the counter are several heavy earthenware jugs that hold just about everything else I use when I cook: about six different wooden spoons and spatulas for stirring and cooking (these will not damage my nonstick pans), a good rubber spatula for scraping, a good stainless-steel spatula (for regular pans) a stainless-steel spoon … an eight-ounce ladle .. a big perforated stainless steel spoon for skimming, a pair of tongs, and a whisk…

Arbor also suggests:

* A vegetable/food mill with fine, medium and coarse disks for preparing smooth soups, sauces and pureeing vegetables and fruits

* Small, medium, and large mixing bowls

* A fine mesh strainer for straining sauces and herbed milk

* A pair of hot mitts

* A hand-cranked can opener

* A corkscrew

*A salad spinner

* One dozen cotten kitchen towels (He prefers the white ones with red or blue stripe)

If you like to bake:

* a scale

*a set of measuring cups

* a set of measuring spoons

You can buy a rolling pin or cookie cutters, but he uses a plain wine bottle to roll dough and a water glass will cut biscuits perfectly, Arbor suggests.

marcella-hazan

MARCELLA’S ITALIAN KITCHEN by Marcella Hazan

“The more I cook, the less equipment I want to be bothered with,” Hazan writes. “The pleasure of collecting a variety of handsome cooking implements can be irrestible, and I confess I have resisted it less often than I should. But it easily becomes an end in itself, it is extravagent, it causes clutter, and it doesn’t have much to do with good cooking.

“I cook best, I find, with a few well-made things whose properties have become so familiar that I use them as uncalculatingly as I do my hands.

“I have nothing to add to the ample information already available from so many sources on the basic pots, knives and other tools every cook needs … Here, I shall limit myself to listing a few implements useful to Italian cooks that might not be considered standard equipment in other kitchens.”

The food mill: She suggests a French or Italian model with interchangeable disks with small, medium and large holes, preferable a stainless steel model that will never warp or crack and is easier to maintain than a plastic one

The saute pan:  A 10-12 inch diamer pan with either flaring or straight sides between 2-3 inches high and a close-fitting lid. She says that’s all one would probably need to cook a majority of the recipes in her cookbook. Add a sturdy stockpot to it and you could cook nearly any Italian dish that is cooked on the stove top. The saute pan can fry, simmer, saute, stew, fricasee, make sauces, even blanch skinny vegetables like asparagus.

The pasta colander: To drain pasta of course but also any other ingredient cooked in its own moisture, such as spinach. You can place eggplant slices on its side to drain before cooking

Slotted spoons and spatulas: Self explanatory, I think

The Cheese Grater: To grate cheese efficiently she relies on the French Mouli grater, a grating drum with a handle help between two clamps.

The Peeler. Self-explanatory.

Viana La Place

Viana La Place

LA BELLA CUCINA by Viana La Place

“The Italian kitchen is utilitarian, in the sense that it is a workroom dedicated to the task of cooking. It is my opinion that the simpler the kitchen looks, the better the food. And Italian kitchens shine. Appliances look as if they have never been used, since no residue from cooking ever remains. Starting with the floor and working one’s way up to the ceiling, the Italian kitchen must be spotless.

“In my kitchen in the Salento, I am blessed with what I consider to be one of the most beautiful floors I’ve ever seen. The large terrazzo floor tiles are flecked with tiny chips of marble in pale pistachio green and white … In the center of the kitchen is a simple wooden table with a white marble top worn to a lovely dull luster and  a set of wooden chairs painted blue. Windows that open to the breezes wrap around the kitchen — and outside I can almost touch the old-fashioned pink roses and little yellow plums that grown in the garden below. French doors lead out to a terrace in back that faces other gardens and other villas.”

And this is what La Place found in the pantry:

* Colanders in every size for draining pasta

* A hand-cranked food mill with three size disks

* Several cheese graters

* An assortment of formaggiere — little glass serving pieces with hinged lids for holding the freshly grated cheese placed on the table at almost every meal

* Espresso pots (Mokas). Ones for three cups, six cups, nine cups and twelve cups.

* An old hand-cranked coffee grinder

* Cups in a variety of sizes: tiny cups for espresso, large cups for caffe latte, and and assortment of other sizes for the occasional cup of tea or broth

* Everyday wineglasses: stemless, sturdy and reliable, and diminutive glasses for liqueurs, digestivi and aperativei; a few fancier wineglasses, although most of the fancy wineglasses are in the dining room credenza, she says.

* Taller, but not too tall, glasses for homemade lemonade or cold tea

*Bowls of many sizes. Shallow bowls for tossing pasta and sauce, and a succession of bowls in decreasing sizes for salad making, cooked vegetables, for olives and individual shallow bowls for erving pasta.

* You will always find at least one enormous pot for boiling pasta for a crowd, as well as a variety of pots in various sizes for other uses.

* A frying pan

*Earthenware casserole dishes of various sizes and always a very large rectangular baking dish for making pasta al forno or lasagne

* Baskets for bread, carafes and pitchers for wine and water, cruets for olive oil and vinegar

* A big box of sea salt is always present and salt is placed on the table in very small salt dishes accompanied by equally small spoons

*A pepper mill

*Spoons: tiny spoons for espresso, medium size spoons for general use and gigantic soup spoons, much larger than the ones we use in America for soup. Many wooden spoons for cooking

* Knives. especially popular and useful are the plastic handled serrated knives one buys at the outdoor markets

*In terms of small utensils, you’ll find a meat pounder; a straight-sided pastry wheel for cutting pasta; a deep, slotted spoon for scooping stuffed pasta out of boiling water; and a thin, long rolling pin without ball bearings for rolling out pasta.

“It sounds like a lot of equipment,” La Place writes, “But it all fits very neatly in the medium-size pantry in the kitchen. The tools are basic, the ingredients simple, yet the results are profoundly good.”

  1. Marsi
    May 20th, 2009 at 15:40 | #1

    I do use a food mill — an Italian steel one that I got at Sur La Table — and must admit that I do love it. I agree so much with the anti-gadget stance of these three professional cooks. Interesting to read about the things they have in their kitchens and their respective philosophies about what’s essential. I remember reading a quote several years ago (I don’t remember by whom) that French naval officers manage to whip up gourmet meals in the tiny kitchen of a submarine — limited space, limited tools, gourmet meal. That’s always stuck with me. You can, and should, do a lot with a little.

    Some of my favorite, most used kitchen items:

    KitchenAid mixer — I use it constantly for mixing, for kneading dough, for shredding cheese, vegetables, and laundry soap (I use the grating attachment to grate soap bars for my own laundry detergent).

    Colorful latte bowls (and mini lattes bowls) from Anthropologie — for eating from and also mise en place prep work when cooking

    Wustof boning knife, which I use for pretty much everything!

    Zojirushi electric tea kettle — we drink a lot of tea all throughout the day, and it’s a luxury to have it at the perfect temperature at a moment’s notice

    Cast-iron skillets

    Nice kitchen towels — cute jacquards and bright colors, a fresh towel every morning.

    • Kristi
      May 20th, 2009 at 16:25 | #2

      Marsi,
      I think we’re on the same page in the kitchen! I love my cast iron skillets and use an inexpensive cast iron dutch oven (enamel coated) to roast chicken, bake bread, etc.
      I’ve toyed with the idea of making my own laundry soap, as well.
      I have the food mill on my list … one of these days.
      PS I printed out your creme fraiche recipe and post. That should be a fun recipe to make! Especially to use with all the fresh berries and fruit coming in season.

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What is it about those Italian women? You know the ones I’m talking about: beautiful, sexy, dressed to the nines just to take the kids to the park. They have a certain something that is indefinable. It is in the way they dress, the way they prepare their meals, the way they spend their leisure time.

It is because they know the importance of la bella figura. Roughly translated from Italian, it means putting you best foot forward in everything you do. It means cutting a beautiful figura. The opposite of la bella figura is la brutta figura, which is what someone might say about the falling down drunken guy at the party or the super tackily dressed woman at church. It means ugly figure.

La bella figura is much more than your appearance. It goes much deeper than that. It is about how you act. It is about how you treat others. It is about how you care for yourself, your home and your family. Living a life in line with la bella figura doesn’t take money. In fact, it is more about how to have class without a lot of money.

Someone who exudes la bella figura will have clean, pressed clothes and be well groomed. They will not be rude or sloppy. Their fingernails will be impeccably groomed. Their hair shiny and clean and their shoes will be polished. They will not have stray threads hanging from their suit hems. They will not be driving a car in need of the car wash.

La bella figura means driving that 15 year old car and meticulously cleaning it and caring for it. It means keeping your belongings in good repair. It means taking time to clean your house and not cluttering it up with meaningless objects.

When you focus all your spare energy, time and money on the things that bring you the most amount of pleasure, then you are truly living a life in line with la bella figura. The best part about it is that you don’t have to be Italian to do so. You just have to think like an Italian.

Italian children are raised to present la bella figura in whatever they do. From the time they are small and are groomed perfectly to attend church or school, they know that appearances count. They count because it is the first thing people judge about you. That first impression does matter. Appearances are also important because when you take the time to look nice, you are showing that you care about yourself. When you care enough to look good, it shows you have good healthy self esteem. Nothing is more attractive than self confidence.

In addition, dressing nice also shows respect for others. If you invite people over for dinner and greet them in flip flops, baggy sweats and a stained shirt, it is really disrespectful to them. The same if you dress sloppy to go to church or even to the market. By dressing nicely and being well groomed, you show respect for everyone in your world.

Having la bella figura means presenting yourself in the best light possible in all your interactions.