One-pan won­der

Cook­ing with a sin­gle ves­sel

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - by Sue Quinn Sue Quinn is a writer and ed­i­tor spe­cial­is­ing in food and cookery and blogs at penand­spoon.com

It’s not that I’m blind to the se­duc­tive wink of kitchen equip­ment. As oth­ers de­sire the scar­let flash of Louboutin soles or the but­tery kiss of a Ba­len­ci­aga tote, I’m sus­cep­ti­ble to culi­nary gad­gets and uten­sils. Show me a cool square of mot­tled mar­ble on which to roll out pas­try, and I’m gone.

You could see this for your­self if you man­aged to jemmy open my large kitchen drawer – one of sev­eral slot­ted pasta scoops is likely to have wedged it firmly shut. In­side is an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal as­say of my kitchen past; a time­line of bits and bobs, some of which I use daily but most of which I have aban­doned to the gods.

And yet, the sen­si­ble part of my brain – the bit that writes about food for a liv­ing – knows this col­lec­tion is mad­ness. And I was re­minded of this re­cently while work­ing on a new cook­book in which ev­ery recipe had to be made in a sin­gle roast­ing tray. The truth is, very de­li­cious things can be cooked with very lit­tle equip­ment – with no dispir­it­ing piles of wash­ing up to con­tend with af­ter­wards. El­iz­a­beth David was right. One of her most fa­mous es­says, Gar­lic Presses are Ut­terly Use­less, be­gins as a cook­book re­view but spi­rals into a tirade against su­per­flu­ous kitchen gad­getry. If you wish to crush a gar­lic clove, she ar­gues in her fine and firm style, why not use the back of a heavy knife? “Quicker, surely, than get­ting the gar­lic press out of the drawer, let alone us­ing it and clean­ing it,” she as­serts. More’s the pity that we will never know her views on to­day’s world of spi­ralis­ers, av­o­cado hug­gers and straw­berry hullers.

So, how much of my equip­ment do I ac­tu­ally use? Not much. De­spite a drawer over­flow­ing with knives, I al­ways reach for the same sil­ver Füri; a wed­ding present 17 years ago, it’s so com­fort­able to hold that it now feels like an ex­ten­sion of my hand. A cou­ple of 40-year-old Le Creuset pans passed on from my mother-in-law. The enamel is wear­ing away and the lids are cracked, but they’re re­li­able and speak of so many fam­ily meals – in­clud­ing those eaten by my hus­band as a kid – I can’t bear to cook in any­thing else. A cou­ple of roast­ing trays, of course. A fry­ing pan. A mor­tar and pes­tle. A food pro­ces­sor. Wooden spoons and spat­u­las. A chop­ping board. Maybe some tongs. Mostly uten­sils that have more than one use.

I have taken a vir­tual peek into the kitchen draw­ers of other cooks, and it seems that less is more all round. Food writer Emiko Davies wrote her first cook­book Floren­tine: the True Cui­sine of Florence (Hardie Grant) with an im­pres­sively mod­est clutch of kit. “I had a fork, lots of wooden spoons, a good knife, a rolling pin, a whisk, a food mill and a sim­ple pair of elec­tric beat­ers,” she tells me.

Claire Thom­son, chef, food writer and au­thor of The Art of the Larder (Quadrille) agrees. “Se­ri­ously, a sharp knife and good hefty chop­ping board and you can prep just about any­thing,” she says. “Good, solid, heavy-bot­tomed pans that dis­trib­ute heat evenly are def­i­nitely worth their price tag, but I’ve found count­less ones in char­ity shops for a dime, as peo­ple tend to find them too heavy.”

“I’m not big at all on equip­ment,” says Diana Henry, award-win­ning au­thor of 10 cook­books.” Peo­ple try to per­suade me to try out a Vi­ta­mix blen­der, but I know what would hap­pen – it would sit on the floor of the larder and I would trip over it.” The only pieces of elec­tri­cal equip­ment she val­ues are beat­ers and a food pro­ces­sor. Henry’s other kitchen es­sen­tials are pretty ba­sic: roast­ing tins, box grater, a few pots and pans (in­clud­ing a large one to make stock), sieve, colan­der, scales, chop­ping boards, tins, bak­ing sheets and a pas­try brush (if you bake), a mea­sur­ing jug, good knives, a few mix­ing bowls, wooden spoons, a slot­ted spoon, rolling pin, spat­ula and pes­tle and mor­tar.

So, if ac­claimed cooks can achieve so much with so lit­tle, why do some of us hoard for dooms­day when it comes to kitchena­lia? Again, El­iz­a­beth David’s wis­dom is ap­po­site. “I don’t a bit covet the ex­otic gear dan­gling from hooks, the riot of clank­ing iron­mon­gery, the ser­ried rank of sauté pans and all other care­fully cho­sen sym­bols of culi­nary ac­tiv­ity I see in so many pho­to­graphs of chic kitchens,” she says in an es­say in Is There a Nut­meg in the House? “Pseuds cor­ners, I’m afraid, many of them.”

In other words, any fool can col­lect kitchen equip­ment. It doesn’t mean they can cook a de­cent meal.

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