I have just moved. It was the herculean task that packing, relocating and unpacking in a very short space of time can only be. One of the very kind people who helped me pack commented on the plethora of kitchen gadgets, tools, spoons, bowls, plates, glasses, more bowls, more plates, more tools and more gadgets that we carefully wrapped into the dozens of boxes that contained my kitchen. “Do you really need all this stuff?” she asked as she held out one of the cutting boards. The answer, of course, was YES! There are cheese boards, boards for cutting roasts on, chopping boards, small boards that you can take on a picnic with you. There are the bowls I use to make my bread dough’s in, salad bowls, mixing bowls in many different sizes, soup bowls and little bowls that I use for serving nuts and olives in. And then there are all the spoons, wire whisks, spatulas, slotted spoons, serving spoons and salad spoons. I thought about all of this ‘stuff’ as I unpacked each box a few days later and thought about the layout of my new kitchen. I admit that there are items I only use a couple of times a year—a raclette machine, a pudding mold for example—but there are many items that have become indispensable extensions of my hands in the kitchen. Can a gadget make you smile? The answer, as I unpacked my favorite items, was yes.
One large box contained all manner of baking things: cookie cutters, cake tins, tart pans, shortbread and springerle molds, and my 18” long tapered French rolling pin. Oddly (given that I usually have multiples of most items) it is the only rolling pin in my kitchen. It has a wonderful patina developed over the past 25 years of use. I roll out everything from gingerbread dough to short crust pastry with it. Its tapered ends allow for easy manipulation and even thickness of the dough. It is by far the best rolling pin I have ever used.
Rolling pins have been around for a very long time. The first traces of them go back to the Etruscans in 900 B.C. They also appear in medieval etchings, renaissance paintings, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Punch and Judy shows. Their shape and purpose (for cooking or otherwise) unchanged for nearly 3,000 years. I like the idea that you could step back in time and find some of the same kitchen tools used in the same manner we do today. There are of course many different types of rolling pins; those for rolling chapattis, tortillas, ridged ones for rolling out different types of pasta; with or without tapered ends; made of stone, marble, stainless steel, plastic and wood. In the end it comes down to the feel of the pin in your hand and I believe that comfort is what makes us like certain items more than others.
Comfort and ease of use is certainly what draws people to use a specific item, or that is has some familial importance. In my family it comes down to knives; small knives in particular. This fascination—a coveting of sorts—stems from the tiny Opinel knife my grandfather carried around in the pocket of his well-tailored suits. It was used for everything from taking the foil off wine bottles to slicing pears on picnics. At home our ‘opinel’ was a very small, very sharp paring knife that lived in the top drawer in my mother’s kitchen. We fought over ‘le petit couteau’ because it was so easy to use. “I get the small knife” we’d cry. That knife has been whittled down over the last fifty years. It is now half its original size. Still sharp and still a favorite when slicing apples for an apple tart, taking the eyes out of potatoes or the stem end out of tomato or cutting out pastry. It makes us all smile when we use it in her kitchen for it has helped produce many memorable meals over the past half century.
A good meal or favorite dish can arouse a surfeit of emotions, usually pleasurable ones. A favorite chocolate cake made for birthdays, a pie made for Thanksgiving, a stew made only on cold winter days for example. For the person making the food, the ritual of that task, the use of a trusted and dependable tool makes creating that dish all the more enjoyable. Immersion blenders are one of those tools for me. My grandmother had one in her kitchen with which she made soups. My mother had one with a nifty attachment that made great mashed potatoes. This is one of those gadgets I would take even into the smallest kitchen. They can do everything from puree vegetables to making mayonnaise a doddle. You can whip cream with them, make pestos, grind nuts, make fruit coulis and smoothies too. I have started making vinaigrettes packed with herbs and tomatoes with the one in my kitchen. It is—for me—an essential utensil.
I have unpacked almost every box now and I am getting the feel of the new kitchen, the foibles of the new ovens, the layouts of cupboards, the trick with ice maker and a place to put the proofing baskets and bench scrapers. I seem to missing a couple of things though, a few bowls and ramekins. I am sure they will turn up soon and I will find a place for them too. There is always room for a dish that holds a crème brulée and the indispensable tool with which to finish it. As Julia child once said “I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”.
FINGERLING POTATO AND BACON SALAD
From Pascale’s new book ‘Salade’
I like good homemade mayonnaise. I have spent many hours carefully whisking in one drop of oil at a time to try and create the perfect mayo. There were times when I thought I would just make a mustard vinaigrette instead because I did not want the hassle (there’s no denying that it usually is) of making homemade mayo. No more! I came across a great trick on the internet. All you need is an immersion blender. (Sometimes they’re called stick blenders). It is absolutely worth buying one of these, if only to make mayonnaise, but really because it makes blending soups so simple. I could not believe how easy it was to make mayo — 1 minute at the most — and it is really amazing.
Serves 8 people
2 ½ lbs fingerling potatoes — try to use different varieties
8 slices bacon
For the mayonnaise:
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon basil leaves — chopped
1 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chives — chopped
1 tablespoon parsley — chopped
Pinch of salt
PEAR AND ALMOND TART
For the crust:
7oz unbleached all-purpose flour
2 oz almond flour
2 tablespoons pistachios – roughly chopped
1 large heaped tablespoon powdered sugar
5 ½ oz cold butter – cut up into small pieces.
Zest 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large egg
pinch of salt
For the tart:
2 tablespoons butter
2 pears – peeled and diced
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
½-inch piece of ginger – peeled and grated
8-10 pears – halved and peeled
1 tablespoon sugar
1 oz butter
¼ cup whole almonds