NEW YORK — If every cooking tool mentioned in "The Essential Kitchen" were in the kitchen, we'd have to cook somewhere else.
Christine McFadden, kitchen designer and food writer, gives us a book (Rizzoli, $29.95) chock-full of names, descriptions and illustrations of hundreds of kitchen utensils ranging from woks to rolling pins. Some are as familiar as a swivel peeler and a saucepan, others obscure.
On Page 17, for example, the french-fry cutter, fish scaler and mandoline are familiar. Less so are the mezzaluna and hachoir. And a fish tweezer? The author tells us it is used to "alleviate that anxiety that sometimes accompanies eating fish. The 6-inch shafts terminate in rounded tips that are ridged on the inner sides. When clamped together, there is enough surface area to grasp and tweeze out lurking bones."
McFadden's book includes use and care of some everyday items. Even before we get to the Table of Contents, she warns us on the use of pans:
"Where possible use the size and shape of pan specified in the recipe, otherwise the cooking time or the amount of liquid may need adjusting." And she specifies, by the inch, what constitutes small, medium and large in skillets and saucepans.
For cooks who swear by fresh pepper, she grinds us about mill maintenance:
Don't use salt in a pepper mill. It will corrode the metal grinding mechanism.
A drop of cooking oil at the top of the spindle, where it meets the adjusting screw, will prevent rusting and keep the thread in good working order.
Don't mill over open pans because stream causes rusting and dampens the grounds, which can clog up the grinder. Mill into a large spoon or over a plate and dump the grounds into the pan.
What she doesn't address is how to buy a salt shaker (an essential), without the matching pepper shaker (a dust-catcher for mill users).
Essential to the utensils is how to use them. Thus the illustrated prepping techniques, ranging from cutting and sieving to boiling and storing. Each cooking technique is accompanied by a recipe, either McFadden's own or that of a well-known chef.
Pasta With Fresh Herbs, Lemon Zest and Fava Beans accompanies the entry on the art of chopping herbs. The secret, she says, is to use a razor-sharp tool for clean cuts. If you hack the herbs, their oils may end up on the cutting board instead of in the food.
For this chore, McFadden recommends a small chef's knife or a mezzaluna, which work on the same principle: a curved blade rocking back and forth over the material to be chopped. The two handles on the mezzaluna, however, "enable you to exert an even, downward pressure, while the crescent-shaped blade increases the length of the cutting edge."
For the following recipe, chop the herbs and make the lemon zest just before you start to cook.
PASTA WITH FRESH HERBS, LEMON ZEST AND FAVA BEANS
9 ounces dried linguine or fettuccine
1 1/2 cups shelled baby fava beans, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Good handful mixed fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme or savory, finely chopped
Zest from 1 1/2 lemons, finely shredded
4 tablespoons stale bread crumbs, toasted in the oven
Sea salt flakes
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh Parmesan shavings, to garnish
Cook the pasta according to package directions until it is "al dente," tender but still with some bite. Drain thoroughly and tip into a warmed serving dish.
While the pasta cooks, plunge the fava beans into a pan of boiling water. Return to a boil and boil for 1 minute, then drain.
Heat the oil in a skillet until it is very hot but not smoking. Toss in the garlic, cook for a few seconds, then remove the pan from the heat the moment the garlic starts to color. Immediately stir in the herbs and lemon zest.
Toss the entire contents of the pan over the pasta. Add a generous seasoning of sea salt and black pepper, and toss thoroughly to mix. Now add the beans and bread crumbs. Toss again briefly — don't let the beans disappear to the bottom of the bowl — and scatter a few Parmesan shavings on top.