The best Italian cooking relies on the freshest ingredients prepared simply, using traditional techniques. Many of the finest Italian dishes contain as few as four to eight ingredients which combine to create layers of flavor without fuss. Since the hallmark of Italian cooking is its exquisite simplicity, it does not require lots of fancy equipment. Once you`ve gathered the most important kitchen tools, the only limit to the spectacular variety of Italian delicacies you can create is your own imagination.
The first and most important thing every Italian kitchen must have is a pasta pot. Cooking pasta for one can be done in any saucepan, but if you`re cooking for a bunch, you must have a tall, narrow pasta pot. Crowding the pasta in the pot will cause it to stick together, as will not keeping the water at a rolling boil. A tall, narrow pasta pot keeps the water temperature constant while giving the pasta room to cook.
A strainer or colander is necessary, not only for draining cooked pasta, but for holding washed vegetables to dry and for salting eggplant. It is best to have both a colander with relatively large holes in it and a mesh strainer for finer and smaller pasta such as angel hair, pastina and orzo.
Most experienced cooks can tell at a glance or with one bite when pasta is perfectly al dente, but if you`re just getting started, you absolutely need a kitchen timer. Many types of pasta, especially fresh pasta and delicate types such as angel hair, go from luscious to limp in a matter of seconds, so set the timer as soon as the water returns to a boil and taste-test a strand the second it goes off for perfect pasta every time.
Good knives are essential to any kitchen, but because Italian cuisine relies so wonderfully on fresh vegetables, you will need several different types of knife to handle the different tasks. A small paring knife is needed for peeling vegetables or scoring tomato skins before blanching. A filet knife is good for more delicate tasks such as removing silverskin or the membranes from shellfish or citrus fruits. A chef`s knife is the most versatile and can be used for everything, from slicing and dicing to smashing garlic with the flat, wide blade. No Italian kitchen is complete without a serrated bread knife, which is also useful for slicing very ripe tomatoes and other vegetables that tend to squish under even a very sharp, smooth blade.
Wooden spoons are invaluable for stirring sauces, soups and stews. Look for a selection of sizes and shapes, from regular bowl-shaped spoons to ones with a hole in the center which are perfect for stirring fresh pasta as it cooks. Look also for a flat wooden spoon for browning ground meats without scratching your non-stick skillets. Long-handled wooden spoons make stirring the contents of your deep pasta not only more comfortable, but safer.
A pasta machine is not an absolute essential these days when fresh pasta is so readily available, but for true pasta lovers there is simply nothing better than homemade pasta. Pasta machines are available in a wide variety of styles and price ranges, from the stand-alone electric pasta makers used in commercial kitchens through attachments for your food processor to the simplest hand-crank machines that clamp to your counter`s edge.