Cook Like an Italian with These Essential Cooking Tools
You’d need a wok to create your favorite Chinese dishes at home, but what about your favorite Italian dishes? Every ethnic cuisine relies on a few cooking tips and tricks – and Italian cuisine is no different. From gnocchi to ravioli to linguini to the parmesan cheese you grate on top, you’ll be able to cook like an Italian nonna with the right cooking tools. Italian cooking often centers around pasta — fresh, homemade pasta. You wouldn’t see an Italian chef worth his or her garlic pouring dried pasta from a box into a pot of boiling water!
10 Essential Italian Cooking Tools
To help you master the art of creating authentic Italian cuisine, we’re going to take a look at some of the top kitchen tools and accessories that are essential for cooking Italian food. Let’s start with the basics:
Knives – Good Ones
A chef’s knife is an all-purpose knife that should be in every kitchen, not just an Italian one! Chef knife blades are usually 8 inches long, but they can range from 6 to 14 inches. If you can invest in one good, sharp knife, make it a chef’s knife. If you have room in your budget, you’ll want a boning knife for meats and delicate items, a paring knife for small ingredients like garlic, a bread knife for – you guessed it – bread, and a utility knife for items like tomatoes, cheese, and Italian cured meats.
If you’ve spent any time in Italy, you’ve probably enjoyed Aperitivo — somewhat like happy hour, an Italian Aperitivo involves low-alcohol beverages and light snacks meant to stimulate the appetite for dinner later (remember, Italians tend to eat dinner late). You can replicate an Aperitivo at home with some olives, nuts, cured meats and a nice selection of Italian cheese. You’ll want at least one or two nice cheese knives such as a hard cheese knife and a flat cheese knife for softer cheeses – but if you don’t have either, then a utility knife should work just as well.
A Garlic Press
Yes, you can cheat and buy the chopped garlic in a jar, but authentic Italian cooking requires fresh garlic! You can chop or mince garlic with a good paring knife, but a garlic press saves time. If you’ve never seen one, it has two handles that open to form a “v” with a little compartment to put in a peeled clove. You close the handles and it pushes the garlic through tiny holes. It’s better to invest in a more robust one that can crush larger cloves — you can pick up a decent garlic press for about $18 – $20.
Spoons: Wooden & Slotted
You’ll be doing a lot of stirring of those aromatic simmering sauces, so a wooden spoon comes in handy because it doesn’t conduct heat like a metal spoon. A slotted spoon is a must if you’re making homemade ravioli or other delicate pasta — you can gently remove fragile pasta from the pot and place into serving bowls or your sauce.
Speaking of removing pasta from the cooking pot, you can’t properly cook pasta without a decent-sized colander to drain it! Italian cooks use one called a scolapasta, which translates to “dripping pasta.” A scolapasta has a foot shaped like an upside bowl attached to the bottom to prevent it from tipping and spilling its precious cargo.
A Cheese Grater
No pasta dish — or pretty much any other Italian dish — is complete until you grate some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over it, so a cheese grater is a must-have! And cheese graters aren’t just for cheese — you can use them to mince garlic, zest a lemon for Chicken Piccata or garnish Tiramisu with chocolate flakes.
Okay, time to step up the game a bit if you want to cook some serious Italian cuisine! These cooking tools will make your friends and family think you’ve opened your own trattoria.
A Pasta Machine
You’re not going to get very far into your Italian culinary adventure without a pasta machine. While making fresh pasta takes some effort, it’s well worth it because fresh pasta has a much richer flavor and light, springy texture compared to dry pasta.
Pasta machines make it possible to roll out sheets of dough in uniform thickness. Most machines come equipped with cutting tools or attachments to make different sized pasta such as linguini, fettuccini, spaghetti, angel hair and lasagna noodles. They range in price from about $30 for simple, hand-crank ones up to about $200 for electric ones.
If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and invest in a pasta machine, you can roll out pasta dough with a rolling pin and use a sharp chef’s knife to slice it. Your pasta might not be quite as uniform as using a machine, but you can still enjoy some tasty homemade pasta!
A Pasta Drying Rack or Pasta Stand
You don’t want to invest all that time and effort into rolling and cutting beautiful pasta — and then have it clump up. Even if you plan to cook your pasta soon after you roll it, you’ll need to let it dry a bit to firm up.
Unless you want to drape strings of pasta from your cabinet doors or babysit and flip it regularly when drying flat, a pasta drying rack is a no-brainer. Racks come in a variety of shapes — some look like umbrellas without the cover or spiraling leafless trees, while others are more like a ski rack with evenly spaced horizontal bars. Pasta drying racks start at about $12 and go up to about $50.
A Gnocchi Board
You might be wondering why you’d need a special Italian cooking tool to make those delicious little potato dumplings. While gnocchi may look smooth, they have little ridges so they can better soak up whatever delectable sauce you decide to smother them in.
A gnocchi board is a curved or flat wooden board with little grooves — when you roll your gnocchi dough over it, it creates perfect ridges. Some gnocchi boards come with a tool to make garganelli, a ridged, tubular-shaped pasta.
A Ravioli Cutter, Press or Stamp
You can find a few cooking tools for making perfectly shaped ravioli rounds or squares. A ravioli cutter (AKA stamp) is a simple tool that you press down onto your pasta dough (once you’ve laid it out with the filling) and it automatically creates filled pasta shapes with the ruffled edges.
A ravioli press is shaped like an egg carton. You lay down a sheet of dough, fill each indentation with your desired filling, place another sheet of dough on top and then press the second piece down to create those perfect little stuffed pillows.
A Mortar and Pestle
People have been using this combination of a bowl and club-like tool to grind spices and medicinal herbs since about 1550 B.C.! As an Italian cooking tool, a mortar and pestle are essential for grinding garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts, pecorino cheese and olive oil to make a favorite Italian sauce — pesto. You’ll find bowls crafted from marble, granite and porcelain — all materials proven to withstand constant grinding and pressure.
With these 10 Italian cooking tools and these essential Italian ingredients, you’ll be cooking like a pro in no time! Your friends and family will be begging you to recreate their favorite Italian dishes.