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If You Love to Cook Italian Food, Here’s the Kitchen Equipment You Should Own

For me, cooking Italian food is about more than just eating well.

Published Dec. 5, 2018.

My first love in the kitchen was Italian. I’m speaking about my maternal grandmother, Katherine Pizzarello. But I’m also thinking about the dishes of my childhood. Sumptuous lasagna stuffed with tiny meatballs, bitter radicchio and fennel salad, and chewy pine nut macaroons. These dishes taught me to love food and shaped my earliest culinary sensibilities. Thank you Nana.

I’ve lived in Italy, traveled extensively in the land of my maternal relatives, and still cook Italian food regularly. In fact, I was on my own last night and improvised a pasta dish with butternut squash, prosciutto, and a shower of Parmigiano. Not bad for a quick meal based on what was in the fridge!

Most Italian cooking is dead simple—that’s why so many cooks (Italian or not) prepare Italian dishes at home. That said, investing in a few tools will allow you to explore the full range of Italian cooking represented in our new tome Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey. This gorgeous cookbook was produced in partnership with National Geographic and explores the diversity of regional Italian cooking with photos from the world’s best photographers, travel essays that bring local culinary traditions to life, and 100 recipes from our test kitchen.

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Featuring authentic, kitchen-tested recipes; 300 gorgeous color photographs; and 30 maps, Tasting Italy takes you on a captivating journey through the rich history of Italian cuisine, region by region.
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What You Need to Discover the Joys of Fresh Pasta

If you’ve never made fresh egg pasta, you’re missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. Keep it simple and toss fresh fettuccine with butter and Parmigiano. Or get ambitious and make ravioli, tortellini, or agnolotti. The dough requires just three ingredients, already in your kitchen—all-purpose flour, eggs, and olive oil. Now, you can make the dough by hand on the counter (I’ve done it countless times). If you have 30 minutes and need a strenuous workout for your arms, I recommend making the dough by hand—at least once. But a good food processor, like our top-rated Cuisinart Custom 14 Food Processor takes 30 seconds to complete the job.

Once the dough is made, you need to turn it into sheets of pasta and rolling pasta is a breeze if you use the Marcato Atlas 150 Wellness Pasta Machine. I’ve owned a previous Atlas model for more than 30 years. A sturdy clamp attaches the device to the counter and it’s so much fun to turn the hand crank that both rolls and cuts the dough.

Finally, whether you are cooking fresh or dried pasta, you need a good colander—one that drains quickly and completely. The RSVP International Endurance Precision Pierced 5Qt. Colander is the best model I’ve ever used. Its all-over tiny perforations keep food in place (no ditalini down the drain) and it’s tall enough that the pasta stays well above the backwash, even if your drain is a bit slow.

What You Need to Cook Vegetables, Italian Style

My love of vegetables (my colleagues call me the “vegetable guy”) started in my grandmother’s kitchen. Veggies were always fresh and they were lovingly prepared. My grandmother’s parents were born in Calabria and came to New York for a better life. But they kept their appreciation of vegetables, which are the backbone of southern Italian cooking.

The Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler is so much better than the peeler with the metal handle my grandmother used. That peeler was uncomfortable and fairly dull. The test kitchen’s top-rated peeler has a comfortable plastic handle and smart Y-shaped design that keeps the blade from getting clogged with peelings from squash, eggplant, and apples. And it’s sharp, so it’s fast.

I don’t recall a mandoline in my grandmother’s kitchen but I love mine for shaved fennel salads. The Swiss Borner Original V-Slicer Plus Mandoline is my go-to tool for cutting potatoes, carrots, and zucchini into thin slices for gratins. And it juliennes so you can make perfect fries.

What You Need to Live La Dolce Vita

Good coffee is part of la dolce vita. When I lived in Florence, I ate breakfast at the bar downstairs. An espresso and pastry is the typical Italian breakfast and why argue with tradition? There’s no equivalent here in Boston (although the coffee has definitely improved in recent years). I make my morning espresso with the help of the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine. After 30 years of buying coffee from many sources (both local and online), I’ve learned that grinding beans at home is probably the most important part of the coffee equation. The Breville has a built-in grinder so there’s no extra appliance needed. It grinds my beans, makes the espresso, and froths the milk.

Of course, espresso is also served with dessert and my favorite Italian desserts are biscotti and gelato, both of which are surprisingly easy to make at home. The “gear” for making almond biscotti couldn’t be simpler—two good rimmed baking sheets. Of course, rimmed baking sheets can do so much more—from roasting vegetables, fish, chicken to toasting nuts and breads crumbs. I rely on the Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet Pan. Add a rack that fits snuggly in your sheet pan (such as the Checkered Chef Cooling Rack) and you can bake breaded eggplant for eggplant Parmesan.

There’s nothing quite like strolling through any Italian city with a cup of gianduia (chocolate-hazelnut) gelato in hand. Now, that’s the sweet life! But don’t despair. Making gelato at home is very simple if you own the test kitchen’s top-rated ice cream maker. The Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker is a real bargain at about $50. Keep the canister in the freezer and you can make gelato when the craving strikes. The Pistachio Gelato recipe in Tasting Italy might be worth the price of the book. Yes, it’s that good.

My grandmother lived to be 99 years old. Evidently, she was doing something right. She’s been gone nearly a decade, but I still think about the lessons she taught me. Here goes Nana:

  • Cooking is joy. Turn on the radio (she always listened to the Yankees play ball), invite little ones to sit on a stool, and fill the house with the aroma of love.
  • Cooking is education. I discovered new flavors in my grandmother’s kitchen. I learned to love fennel, radicchio, and olives as a young child and my adventurous palate has served me well.
  • Cooking is history. My grandmother made her mother’s recipes. I never met my great grandmother but these dishes tie me to her, as well as to my siblings, my mother, and my maternal aunts, uncles, and cousins. They are the shared history of the Mascaro family (my grandmother's maiden name).
  • Cooking is travel. I first visited Italy as a 20-year-old college student. I was amazed by what I found. It was so beautiful and so much fun. All those hours spent in my grandmother’s kitchen prepared me to soak it all in—I knew the flavors, the language (a little), and culture. Being there was the final step in the journey of learning to appreciate all things Italian.

As Nana would say, “buon appetito.”

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