Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lidia's Family Table

Welcome to my kitchen. I want to give you a look around this space–the heart of my home–and at the staple foods and equipment I cook with at home.

I have a comfortable kitchen, which after thirty years in the cramped galleys of restaurants is a dream. At last I have lots of work space atop the cabinets, which sit at either end of my double-oven commercial stove. Together they form an island which stretches across one side of the kitchen. My favorite work space is at the left of the island, with the stove burners immediately to my right, an easy reach to shake a skillet. Underneath my countertop prep area are cupboards with my essential seasonings. The refrigerator and freezer are a few steps to the left. The main sink is right behind me (with a view of my fig tree through the window); next to it, there’s a hearth housing a wood-fired rotisserie and grill. From hooks and racks above the sink and hearth hang skillets, saucepans, and pot covers; sieves, spiders, tongs, ladles, and spatulas.

But the most delightful aspect of my kitchen is that the work counters and cook top are open to the eating area with the long pine table–my family table–at which we take most of our meals and do most of our living as well. When I am making supper, I can watch Tanya and Lorenzo doing art; keep an eye on Julia in her playpen and Ethan searching for cookies; see my mother picking fresh chives from the little garden bed outside the windows. Giovanni is peeling garlic for me and we’re conversing in Italian. This is the way I cook!

The Foods I Cook with at Home
Most days when I cook lunch or supper at home I don’t have time toshop, so I get my ideas by opening some of the dozens of doors in the kitchen–for the dry storage cupboards, the refrigerator, and the freezer–and seeing what’s behind them.

Let’s open some of these together, starting with the cooking staples I keep close by, in the cabinet right under my cutting boards and the cupboards on the other side of the stove island. I haven’t included every item you might find on a given day since I do collect seasonings, condiments, and regional specialties on my trips, and incorporate them into dishes when I am improvising and having fun. And you don’t need everything listed here to cook my recipes, though I have marked in bold the items that are, in my opinion, essentials to keep on hand at all times:

Basics for stovetop cooking, on and under the counter:
• Extra-virgin olive oil: good grade for cooking; premium for seasoning
• Canola oil
• Vinegars–red wine vinegar; balsamic vinegar, medium grade (see page
39); distilled white vinegar; cider vinegar
• Sea salt, both granular (table grind) and coarse crystal (sel de mer);
crystal kosher salt; premium crystal sea salt (fleur de sel)
• Whole black peppercorns, whole white peppercorns
• Peperoncino–hot red pepper flakes, for that touch of spiciness we all like
• Dried oregano (Greek); dried thyme
• All-purpose flour
• Dried bread crumbs–dried bread crumbs can stay in an air-tight container in the cupboard; if seasoned with oil or cheese keep in refrigerator

The Vegetable Bin–a dark and cool place:
• Garlic–lots!
• Shallots
• Common (yellow) onions, red onions, sweet onions (such as Maui, Walla Walla, or Vidalia)
• Russet (baking) potatoes, small red potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes

In the cupboards:
• All-purpose flour, unbleached; whole-wheat flour; semolina flour; buckwheat flour (oily specialty flours, like chestnut and chickpea, in the freezer).
• Yellow polenta (imported); buckwheat polenta (taragna); white
• Short-grain Italian rice for risotto (Arborio or Carnaroli); long-grain
white rice; brown rice, wild rice
• Dried pastas–long: spaghetti, linguini, perciatelli, capellini; tubular: ziti, rigati, rigatoni, cavatappi, radiatori, gomiti, campanelle; and for soups: tubetini, stellinie, orzo, ancini pepe. Plus dry whole-wheat linguini or ziti, and other different shapes to enjoy as you find them
in the store.
• Dried cannellini beans; dried borlotti or cranberry beans; dried blackeye
• Dried lentils
• Split peas
• Farro-barley
• Golden raisins, prunes, dried apricots, dried cherries
• Dried porcini (my mother puts them in the freezer) (see page 140)
• Pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts (put them in the freezer, too, for
long storage)
• Sugar, granulated; honey; zucchero da canna (page 389); maple syrup;
brown sugar (dark and light)

In the cupboards in cans and jars (I check the fridge first for open jars!):
• San Marzano plum tomatoes
• Imported tomato paste (preferably in tubes)
• Sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
• Imported tuna fish packed in olive oil (tonno in olio)
• Imported anchovies, packed in olive oil (in the freezer, if opened)
• Tiny capers (nonpareil) in vinegar brine
• Peperoncini, whole small peppers in vinegar brine, preferably Tuscan
• Hot cherry peppers in vinegar brine (for hot-lovers, like me)
• Roasted sweet red peppers* (pimento) in brine
• Canned, cooked beans: cannellini; garbanzo (ceci)
• Apricot jam, rose hip jam, plum jam, strawberry jam, peanut butter
• Baby gherkin pickles
• Dijon mustard
• Ketchup

In the refrigerator–everyday dairy and cheeses:
• Milk: whole, 2%, and skim
• Butter, unsalted (there’s salted too)
• All-the-time cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, and Grana
Padano (cheese rinds are saved in the fridge as well)
• Some-of-the-time cheeses: fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, crumbly goat cheese; ricotta salata, aged pecorino

In the refrigerator–vegetables and herbs:
• Carrots, celery, scallions, leeks, spinach, cabbage, mushrooms,
lettuces, chard, parsnips, turnips, celery root, squashes
• Italian parsley, fresh basil, fresh rosemary, fresh bay leaves, fresh
thyme, fresh mint (fresh horseradish and other herbs when in season)

In the refrigerator–odds and ends:
• Bacon (preferably slab or thick-cut); prosciutto ends (see page 129)
• All kinds of olives: black and green; brine-cured, oil-cured, with pits
and pitted

In the freezer–cooking staples in pints and quarts:
• All-Purpose Turkey Broth, page 80 (and turkey wings for more
• Simple Tomato Sauce, page 132
• Marinara sauce, page 130
• Summer tomato sauce, page 256
• Bolognese sauce, page 143
• Frozen green peas
• Frozen berries

The Skillets, Pots, and Tools I Cook with at Home
Though there are dozens of skillets hanging near the stove and cupboards full of pots and saucepans, I use the same ones day after day. Probably, all of us cooks have our favorites–they feel familiar and comfortable in our hands; we know how much they hold and how fast they heat.

My everyday pots may be larger than the ones you use now, in part, as I mentioned before, because I always want to have food to send home with others. But large quantity cooking is also essential to my principle of building many dishes from elemental components, like sauces and soup bases, that I freeze for future meals. I hope you will become a convert to the efficiencies, conveniences, and creative possibilities that this style of cooking affords. In which case, you’ll need the big saucepans and soup pots I use and specify in the recipes. A 12-quart stock pot, and 8- and 10-quart heavy saucepans or Dutch ovens, and cast-iron pan, make life much easier and more delicious.

It is also the case that my cooking techniques demand large surface or volume dimensions. This is true of almost every pasta dish I make, for which a 14-inch-diameter skillet is a must. I have two of them, and I use them for everything–meats, vegetables, sauces–so it’s not unusual for both of those great old pans to be on the stove at the same time. I recommend this pan in dozens of recipes in this book, so I hope you will get at least one. I also dependon my heavy-duty roasting pans, 17 by 20 inches or even bigger for my main course roasts. The breadth is necessary, not for massive meat or poultry pieces, but to cook and caramelize a big quantity of vegetables and seasonings and to make a sauce in the roasting pan too.

I am not hooked on gadgets, though I have drawers full of them, often given to me as gifts. As you can glean from the recipes, which specify the cooking tools I use, there are a few things I must have nearby when I’m cooking. For pasta, I always use an Asian-made spider–the stir-fry tool with a wire basket on a long handle–to lift noodles from the cooking pot. I keep spiders in several sizes to use as tossers and stirrers. Metal tongs are also in my hands whenever I’m at the stove; several sizes are useful. Sieves and hand strainers, as well as larger draining baskets and colanders, are also essential implements, as are wooden spoons for mixing. There’s nothing fancy about these things but they are the best extensions of my hands I have used–and hands and fingers are my favorite kitchen tools and the most important of all.

But my recipes, the recipes I share with you in this and other books, can be cooked in any size kitchen. Don’t let this tour of my kitchen deter you. No matter how small your space, make it convenient and comfortable for you and your family. You can also reduce most of the recipes designed to serve six by cutting ingredients in half and using a somewhat smaller cooking vessel. Otherwise cook them as they are and you will have leftovers, which, when revisited creatively, can turn into delightful new dishes. I offer you some of those ideas throughout the book, but use your own imagination.
Copyright © 2004 by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

Lidia's Family Table
by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
buy this book at Barnes & Noble

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