10 Essential Tools for Mastering Italian Cooking
These are must-haves for a well-stocked Italian kitchen.
When you’re craving simple, fresh, seasonal food, no one does it quite as well as the Italians. From chewy fresh pastas, to silky risottos and crispy, golden brown milanese, Italian cooking is about making simple food with the absolute best ingredients. This same philosophy extends to their kitchen tools. Italian kitchens are not filled with single-use gadgets and high-tech equipment, but versatile, time-tested pots, pans and utensils.
To help you channel your inner Italiano, we’ve rounded up the equipment that you’ll find in the kitchen of any pro or home cook who takes Italian food seriously. While these tools will give you everything you need in your arsenal to cook like a real nonna, you’ll soon find yourself reaching for this equipment for all of your kitchen tasks. Read on for the most essential tools for mastering Italian cooking.
1. Large Dutch Oven
An enameled cast-iron casserole, or Dutch Oven, has thick, insulated walls that create an even heat perfect for stewing, braising and making soups. Use it to make this luscious Italian Seafood Stew from Italian master Marco Canora, or this satisfying Pasta Fazool from our own Justin Chapple. The thick cast-iron walls also retain heat for a long time, making it the perfect serving vessel for bringing your food right to the table. Your soup or pasta will stay warm while people help themselves from the big pot.
More commonly used in Asian cooking, a spider is one of our favorite tools for cooking pasta. The small strainer basket makes it easy to pluck pasta and gnocchi out of the pasta pot and dump it right into your simmering pan of sauce. Just the right amount of pasta water carries over, plus you don’t have to schlep a big pot of boiling water to the sink to drain.
Stainless Steel Spider Strainer, $10 at amazon.com
3. Deep Baking Dish
Williams-Sonoma Essential Rectangular Baker – 9x13-inches, $40 at williams-sonoma.com
4. Large Wooden Board
One of the things we love most about Italian food is that it’s best served family-style. Be it a big pot of pasta set in the middle of the table or a giant antipasti board for everyone to dig into at the beginning of the meal, it’s communal and abundant. For your own Italian feast, start off the meal with a big board overflowing with crostini, salumi and pickled vegetables. This handled walnut board from Cliff Spencer is sturdy enough to use for your kitchen prep, but also looks elegant right on the table.
While tongs have a multitude of uses, they are especially handy if you make a lot of pasta. Use them to snatch hot pasta shells out of a pot of bubbling water and to toss your spaghetti in its sauce. This 12-inch pair from OXO is lightweight and very easy to manage.
OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Stainless-Steel Tongs, $13 at amazon.com
6. Wooden Spoon
You will find a set of well-worn wooden spoons in almost every Italian kitchen. They’re strong, won’t damage the surface of your pot, and won’t melt if you rest them on the side of your pan. We like this olive wood spoon because the flat surface and angled tip help you get to every corner of your pan. Plus, the hole in the middle is ideal for making risotto. The rice flows through the center of the spoon, giving you a creamier final result. Try it out with this recipe for Broccoli Rabe Risotto with Grilled Lemon.
Redecker Oiled Olive Wood Cooking Spoon with Hole, $16 at amazon.com
7. Pasta Roller
While you can roll out pasta dough by hand, it’s a lot easier to get an even thickness with a pasta roller. This hand-powered roller does not take up too much space in your kitchen and it’s less of an investment than a stand-mixer with a pasta attachment. The Marcato pasta roller is made in Italy and will last you forever. Get the roller and cut the thin pasta sheets by hand, or add on one of their 8 pasta attachments for noodles like spaghetti, pappardelle and capellini. Try your hand at making pasta from scratch with this recipe for Fresh Pasta with Spicy Corn and Asparagus.
Marcato 8320 Atlas Pasta Machine, starting at $72 at amazon.com
Think of the mezzaluna as the O.G. food processor. This double-handled, curved knife is rocked back and forth on a cutting board, making quick work of chopped herbs, greens, onions and garlic. It’s best for rustic sauces like salsa verde or olive tapenade. (Try a mortar and pestle if you need to truly pulverize the ingredients)
Double Mezzaluna, $40 at williams-sonoma.com
9. Food Mill
A food mill is a useful, low-tech tool to have on hand for making soups, sauces and jams. The interchangeable discs let you control the texture of your food: Use a medium disc to rice potatoes for pillowy gnocchi, or a finer disc to get rid of tomato skins and seeds for a smooth marinara.
OXO Good Grips Food Mill, $50 at amazon.com
10. Sauté Pan
A skillet and sauté pan have a subtle, but significant difference: A skillet has flared sides, while a sauté pan has a wide flat base with high, straight sides. The straight sides on a sauté pan do a better job of locking in moisture, making it ideal for braising chicken thighs or sausages until they are juicy and tender. It’s also our pan of choice for shallow frying (give it a try with this Spicy Chicken Milanese with cherry tomatoes and parmesan). Plus, we find that it gives you the best results when making risotto: the wide base allows the rice to have more contact with the heat, the heavy bottom prevents your risotto from scorching, and the sides are just high enough to slow evaporation (giving your rice more time to absorb the liquid).
All-Clad Stainless Steel Sauté Pan with Lid - 3-Quart, $90 from amazon.com