Start with a few basic pots and pans made from heavy-gauge stainless steel, such as a 6-quart pot for cooking pasta, soup, and vegetables. You will need small, medium, and large saucepans, and a heavy Dutch oven for stews and braises. Nonstick skillets are good for frying and sautéing. Be sure to get one 12 inches wide--large enough to hold a pound of pasta and its sauce.
There are many excellent brands of cookware made nowadays, but be careful about buying restaurant-grade equipment unless you have a restaurant range. The average household stove does not have burners large enough or heat output strong enough for some restaurant pots and pans, and while they are durable, they can be bulky and cumbersome.
You will also need small and large roasting pans, and baking dishes. The two sizes I find most useful are 13 × 9 × 2-inches and 9 inches square.
For baking cakes, tarts, and cookies, get a sturdy springform pan, two layer cake pans, a tart pan with a removable base, and at least two large heavy cookie sheets, as well as large racks for cooling baked foods.
Good knives are essential for anyone who spends time in the kitchen. They will make most of your chores easier and more enjoyable and are actually safer to use. Fine knives are not inexpensive, but they are a good investment. The three knives that I use the most are my large heavy chef's knife, a boning knife, and paring knives. A long sharp carving knife and fork are useful for slicing roasts and the like. Get a sharpening steel to keep them honed and learn how to use it. A serrated bread knife does a good job on crisp breads and cakes.
A portable hand-held mixer is useful for whipping eggs and heavy cream and for mixing most cakes. However, if you bake a lot and make pasta and bread, a heavy-duty stand mixer is invaluable. My large Kitchen Aid mixer is more than twenty years old and despite a few dings in the enamel is as good as new. The pasta-making attachment makes quick work of a batch of pasta dough. An extra bowl and beaters makes it easy to prepare cake batter in one bowl and whip egg whites in another without stopping to wash out the bowl.
No Italian kitchen would be complete without a food mill, a hand-cranked device used to puree foods while straining out hard seeds, tough skins, or other debris. While a processor or blender can be used for many of the same functions, neither one will separate out unwanted bits. Use a food mill to make light, fluffy mashed potatoes, smooth tomato puree, fruit sauces, vegetable soups, and baby food. A food mill is inexpensive and easy to maintain. Look for one made of stainless steel with removable disks.
A food processor is handy for chopping large quantites, shredding, grating, and making sauces and creamy soups. With the blade attachment, I can slice foods paper-thin for salads. It also does a good job of kneading bread and pasta dough.
You don't need a machine to make fresh pasta, but it is helpful. The best kind to buy is imported from Italy, made of metal and either hand-cranked or electrified. It consists of two rollers that adjust from wide apart to close together, kneading and thinning the dough. Other than the fettuccine cutter, you probably won't use the various cutting attachments, so don't bother to buy them.
Never wash a pasta machine, as residual moisture can damage the works or cause the dough to stick. When you are finished using it, just wipe it with a dry cloth and remove any particles of pasta dough. Store it in a dry place (loosely covered-to prevent it from getting dusty).
A pizza cutter is useful not only for cutting up pizza, but also for cutting out pasta dough, pastry, and cookies. Look for a heavy cutter with a large wheel.
A long rolling pin is ideal for rolling out pasta dough as well as pastry. Look for a long wooden pin that does not taper at the ends. The slight graininess of the wood helps to grip the dough and gives it a subtle texture. A plain straight pin is better than the roller type pin with ball bearings because you have more control.
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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