Sometimes the correct tools, ingredients, and know-how are everything.
Here I have provided a list of the products that I use to create beautiful meals. Having said that, I do not recommend any product unless the product is fail-proof and “bullet proof”. Meaning it will work in every way you want it to. These are the staples. I’ve tried almost every canned tomato product in specialty Italian markets. I’ve tasted and cooked with numerous extra virgin olive oils. I give insight as to which knives outlast the others and allow you to dice tomatoes with little effort. I hope this helps you make and share delicious meals efficiently with less stress.
My olive oil of choice:
Browsing the extra virgin olive oil section at a health foods store can be overwhelming. There are a ton of options. The olive oil recommended is a premium extra virgin olive oil. Nearly all Italian recipes call for extra virgin olive oil. The quality extra virgin is produced with stricter guidelines. Lucini’s brand of olives are hand picked when ripe and processed on the same day without heat. This gives the oil freshness and its unaltered legendary health benefits. Traditional extra virgin olive oil is required to have ≤0.8% acidity which is one of it’s indicators of quality. Lucini’s extra virgin olive oil brings a pepper finish and acidity level of 0.2-0.4% (that’s quite good). I would never recommend cooking in high heat with this oil; but, I often use this oil to finish my pasta dishes AT THE END. If you find yourself adding a little cracked black pepper to the end of your pasta dishes, this oil is for you. Having tried many extra virgin olive oils this is the one I continually go back to and most stores carry it. It has a nice pour spout, but I always just stick my clean thumb onto the spout and drizzle what I need. You will love the thicker texture and deep golden-green color. It is so delicious, and that is all I can say. I provided a link to Amazon so you can see it’s reviews. Enjoy.
This one is often hard to find in stores. Colavita makes a variety of olive oils, but I will ONLY buy their “Premium Italian” seal. Their other varieties often have olives coming from mixed sources and countries, which you should stay away from. I have to recommend this specific olive oil because Colavita has been a tradition in our family for years, we use it for pasta, antipasti, salad dressings, and to top off soups. I has a nice fruity smell if you prefer one less peppery than Lucini’s above. The olive oil taste and tradition in our family itself wins the recommendation; but as a side note, I also like the darker glass bottle protecting it from going rancid. It has a longer bottle neck to pour the oil easily. The link I have provided features two big 17 oz bottles for $19 dollars; usually they are $20+ each in the store. They are sold directly from Colavita, meaning the company will likely have a high turn over rate, shipping fresh olive oil that hasn’t sat on a shelf. I’ve personally ordered these and they come in a nice box together. Hope this helps! Remember to only look for the “Premium Italian” seal.
When you can’t pesto at home:
Although I do not recommend store bought pesto. This pesto is actually green inside. Most companies will use a trick to keep jar pesto green: They use spinach leaves along with the basil. This will give more of a green color after it is processed. Although I do not agree with this in traditional pesto, just make sure the ingredient basil always comes before the ingredient spinach. I do have a jar in my refrigerator as we are currently in the middle of winter and my basil plant is not of homemade pesto quality. I use this jar of pesto in soups or on top of fried eggs. It works well to stir a little into your tomato sauce if you don’t have any fresh basil around. Again, I ONLY use this when I don’t have fresh pesto around. Making fresh pesto and storing some for later is always worth it.
Additional Pesto ingredients: ⠀⠀
The cheese grater I love:
Where would I be without my microplane Zester/grater.. Probably the coolest piece of equipment I own and the only tool that traveled with me on my graduate school rotation internships. A microplane grater is perfect for grating hard cheeses and can also work as a zester for lemons. Our family uses it to top pasta with cheese. It grates up Parmesan into “snow,” which will melt into the sauce and allow the the sauce to better stick to the pasta. If you’re company help cook, this is a great task to delegate to someone. Your helper will effectively create a heaping snow pile of cheese on your cutting board which you can then add to the sauce later on. The grater itself and block of hard cheese have come to table many times to grate more cheese over dishes. And, because they only cut one way, they are easy to clean. The grater is slim and stores in a plastic sheath. You will enjoy this tool!
Tools are important. I use three kitchen knives for maximum efficiency.
1. Serrated chef’s Knife, 8-10inch
I would recommend trying a serrated chef’s knife. A serrated knife will stay sharp for a very long time. Using a serrated or scalloped edge knife avoids the necessity to sharpen the knife. Unless you are skilled in sharping a fine edge knife, I think you’ll be very satisfied over longer periods of time with the serrated knife. This is the knife I use for almost everything and it’s always sharp. This particular knife was designed by an Italian, Matteo Thun. It is manufactured with quality by J. A. Henckels, a well known knife company with lifetime warranties. I find an 8 inch knife blade is the perfect size, any bigger and the knife gets heavy and becomes a restriction. The best part is the smooth thumb holder because I often grip my knife higher up to have more control chopping. I recommend this knife especially for tomatoes that have harder skin and juicy centers. You’ll find a new love for dicing tomatoes like a checkerboard.
2. Paring knife
The handle should fit in the palm of your hand. The blade about the size of your thumb. Use this knife to chop small ingredients. Use your thumb to guide you when slicing fresh summer strawberries.
3. Bread knife
This knife is also serrated, but designed in a way to cut through crusty heels and complex soft centers. Do not sharpen this knife, you do not want to ruin the teeth. Always take the effort to pull this knife out and dirty it up when slicing bread, it is worth it.
Use these two tricks to keep your knives sharp forever.
- Wash them by hand. Do not put them in the dishwasher.
- Store knives sleeved or in a holder without blade contact.
These three kitchen knives will cover all your needs. Remember to use a sawing or pulling-back motion with serrated knives.
I find that the quality of the pasta I buy directly translates to the quality of the dish. When purchasing Italian pasta, you want to look for pasta that is 100% Durham Semolina. You’ll often see many varieties in American markets that are not that traditional pasta. I use the De Cecco brand pasta. De Cecco uses bronze dies to process their pasta; and by forcing it through small molds, it gives the pasta a rougher texture to grab onto the sauce (gravy). Ask an Italian family living in Italy what they grew up on, and it’s likely De Cecco dried pasta or grandma’s fresh pasta. Until you’ve tried bronze dye pasta, you’re missing out on a textural component. This pasta will almost chew like a meal if you cook it Al Dente. In fact, it will fill you up more with less noodles if you cook it correctly. Here are the links to my favorite four shapes.