Rustico Cooking is an Amazon Associate and may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
I was standing in a friend's kitchen a while ago. She was making pasta with puttanesca sauce. Everything was ready: the pasta was al dente, so she went to the sink, drained it, and returned it to the pot. She brought the pan with the puttanesca sauce by the sink, ready to toss the pasta with it. Out she brought a flat wooden paddle to stir and serve.
Needless to say, it took her five minutes just to stir the sauce into the pasta and distribute it among the four waiting bowls. The pasta was excellent, but she sure worked hard to get it on the table after the real work - making the sauce and cooking the pasta - had been done.
That incident is what made me realize just how inefficient cooking can become, how daunting a task, without the right tools. It takes a few basic implements to speed up the cooking process, a few more to make it truly a breeze. You don't have to spend a lot of money to equip a kitchen for everyday cooking.
Here is a list of the musts for the busy cook. Equip your kitchen now and you'll save plenty of time and energy later.
The list is in no particular order; I will update it as often as possible when notable new items come on the market.
If there is a kitchen tool you can't cook without, and it's not on this list, please email us at email@example.com so we can perhaps add it to future editions of this guide.
I can't imagine NOT owing a pot with a colander insert. It's great for boiling pasta, and spares you from running to the sink to strain into a colander (and the built-in colander saves you from having to remember to reserve some pasta cooking water for your sauce). It's also ideal for making vegetable or meat stock, or for boiling vegetables and other large items. From top to bottom:
We suggest the extra-large 8-quart All Clad
Or the slightly smaller 6-quart Cuisinart
A good skillet cooks food evenly, without constant monitoring. For this you need a sturdy skillet with a thick base. From top to bottom:
Another fabulous (more costly choice) is from All Clad and comes with a lid
We have bought dozens of pasta machines for our hands-on cooking classes over the last twenty years.
Our go-to brand is Atlas and Atlas 150 (the name refers to the width of the lasagna sheets it will produce, which is 15 centimeters, or 150 millimeters). It comes with a tagliatelle and spaghettini attachment and a handy clamp for your counter. These are really workhorse machines and will last you a lifetime.
We bought our first cavatelli machine in Little Italy in Montreal in the 1980s and it still works! Since then, we have bought them by the dozen for hands-on pasta classes. We recommend the one from Paderno which easily clamps onto counters and turns out great cavatelli every time...
Tongs are like an extension of your hands. They are ideal for tossing salads, turning fish filets or scaloppine in a hot pan, retrieving bits of food that slipped out of the pot and onto the burner, pulling ears of corn out of boiling water, and anything else you can think of. (If my husband isn't home, I use tongs to grab packages of pasta from the top shelf in the kitchen cupboard, which I can't reach without standing on a chair.)
Buy tongs in stainless steel, not plastic, so they will be heat resistant. But don't forget, they heat up if you set them on the side of a pan to rest, so be careful.
I use dough scrapers for cleaning dough off counters, cutting dough into manageable pieces, transferring pastries or cookies to a baking sheet, gathering flour as I start to knead dough.
I suggest a metal one for cutting dough or working chilled butter into pastry dough; a plastic one for cleaning out the inside of a bowl of dough, for cutting gnocchi, or scraping delicate surfaces clean of debris and stuck-on dough. From left to right:
A plastic scraper (nice and flexible for ease of use) from Chef Craft
A metal scraper with a handy measure guide and inch marking scale from Anmarko
In Italy (actually, all over Europe), cooks use scales to weigh food; they don't rely on volume measurements, and I think they're right. Weight is a consistent measurement, whereas volume is inherently error-prone. In other words, my 1/4 cup of flour may be more or less packed than your 1/4 cup of flour, and my cake batter may turn out too wet as a result. But if I weighed my flour instead, and you did too, we would be sure of a consistent measurement. We use an electronic scale. From left to right:
Cake pans come in all shapes and sizes. I prefer springform cake pans for easy release but some recipes benefit from the smoother shape of traditional cake pans. From left to right:
Turbo Bee Springform Cake Pans come in a set with 3 handy sizes Chicago Metallic Professional Non-Stick 3-Piece Round Cake Pan Bakeware Set features a 6-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch pan
Bundt pans make elegant looking cakes, but their benefit extends to more than the cake's appearance: the nooks and crannies make for slightly crispy edges, a real bonus if, like me, you dust your cake pan with sugar to prevent sticking, as the sugar tends to turn crunchy in the bundt's folds. From top to bottom:
Nordic Ware 12-Cup Bundt Pan is top of the line
Wilton 9-Inch Bundt Panis less expensive but solid
A must when draining pasta (unless you have the sort of pot with its own built-in strainer as suggested in this guide). Also good for rinsing fruits and vegetables, washing herbs, and draining steamed or boiled vegetables. Look for a colander with many holes for fast, even drainage. The one from ExcelSteel is well made and has a pleasing design
Mesh strainers are great for sifting flour, rinsing berries and small fruit or vegetables, and straining purees, custards, and more. I love the set of 3 from Cuisinart
This handy tool is perfect for grating garlic, ginger, cheese, citrus zest, nutmeg... the list goes on and on. I prefer Microplanes with a rubber handle to those without handles.
Not only useful for cheese, but for carrots, ginger, and onions. I like graters with holes of varying sizes, and prefer stainless steel to plastic, since it retains less odors. The one from Microplane is fabulous; it is stable, sharp, and has 5 different sides (Fine, Coarse, Ribbon, Ultra-Coarse, and Slicing).
I like my 8-inch square dish for vegetable gratins, deep lasagna, or bread pudding
I use my 9-inch pie pans for roasting vegetables, pies, tarts, and all manner of oven baked goods
Stoneware is ideal for cooking lasagna slowly and evenly, and for getting those delicious crispy edges we all love. When baking lasagna, I often keep it covered for the first 30 minutes to prevent drying out; a pan that comes with its own lid is a definite plus, but a good lidless pan can be covered with foil if needed. My two top choices, from left to right:
Le Creuset 4-quart covered rectangular casserole
Emile Henry13-inch x 9-inch large rectangular baker is less pricey but a great heat conductor and looks beautiful too
When you're dealing with recipes, you're often dealing with ingredients by the tablespoon, by the cup, and so on. Buy one set of measuring spoons and one set each of liquid and solid measuring cups (but also be sure to buy a scale as weight measurements are far more accurate than volume; unfortunately most recipes are not written in weight but in volume measurements).
Remember never to measure wet ingredients in dry measuring cups, or dry ingredients in wet measuring cups; you need to be able to level the ingredient in its container to be sure it is appropriately measure. From top to bottom:
Sturdy sheet trays are essential for baking, but also handy for prep. I always line my sheet trays with parchment paper to keep food from sticking and to make cleaning easier (see below). From left to right:
These sheet trays from Nordic Ware are top notch.
These nonstick sheet pans from USA Pan are durable and truly nonstick
Parchment paper is a must for me. I like the 12-inch x 16-inch sheets from Smartake; they can be cut to smaller size as needed to fit smaller trays
If you intend to bake bread or pizza, this is not a luxury: it's a necessity. Baking stones transmit and retain heat very effectively. They make bread crust crisper by quickly drawing out the humidity from a loaf, and give bread a dark, burnished crust. Bread baked on a stone is more rustic, toothsome, and honest in flavor than bread baked on a baking sheet. Baking on a stone mimics a brick oven and really cuts down on baking time, which makes for a product with a lighter texture; a pizza that would take 12 minutes to bake without a stone takes 6 minutes with a stone. We leave our baking stone in the oven at all times; just avoid putting a cold glass or ceramic dish on a heated stone as they will shatter on contact due to the temperature differential.
Baking stones transmit and retain heat very effectively. They make bread crust crisper by quickly drawing out the humidity from a loaf, and give bread a dark, burnished crust. Bread baked on a stone is more rustic, toothsome, and honest in flavor than bread baked on a baking sheet. Baking on a stone mimics a brick oven and really cuts down on baking time, which makes for a product with a lighter texture; a pizza that would take 12 minutes to bake without a stone takes 6 minutes with a stone. We leave our baking stone in the oven at all times; just avoid putting a cold glass or ceramic dish on a heated stone as they will shatter on contact due to the temperature differential.
To use a baking stone, preheat it in the oven for at least 45 minutes at the desired baking temperature: 450 degrees for large bread loaves, 550 degrees (or as high as your oven will go) for pizza. Wash the stone without soap, or your stone will take in the soap and transmit the soapy flavor to the bread or pizzas; to remove stuck-on, encrusted food, like cheese from a pizza, use a metal spatula to scrape it off the stone once it's cooled. A single baking stone won't entirely cover a standard oven rack, since standard ovens are larger than most baking stones. (If you want to fully cover your oven rack--for example, if you intend to frequently bake a lot of baguettes or several loaves of bread at once-- you can buy two baking stones, leave the first one whole, and cut the second one to the exact size you needed to cover the entire rack.) Avoid round baking stones, which are less space-efficient (you can bake less at a given time) and exacerbate the possibility of spilling food onto the oven floor.
Baking steels are preferred by some home bakers. The theory is that metal conducts heat better than stone and it stores more heat per unit volume than stone; this in turn creates a pizza that cooks up both light and crisp with the characteristic hole structure and charring that are the hallmarks of a great pizza.
That said, the baking steel is heavy (some weigh as much as 24 pounds, so dropping one can be disastrous). The two pizza steels we recommend are by 2TwentyTwo Steel Designs (just 1/4" thick so it is a real bargain at less than one third the cost of other steels and a good starting point, as it is also lighter in weight) and Conductive (more pricey and heavier, 3/8" thick and weighs 23 pounds).
A pizza peel is helpful for putting pizzas in a hot oven and retrieving them easily and safely; it's much safer and smoother than using an upturned baking sheet. I prefer metal peels to wooden peels because they are easier to slip under a dough, easier to clean, and won't catch on fire like wood might. They are a bit stickier than wood however, so I like to place my pizza on a piece of parchment paper on the peel to prevent sticking, which also makes loading and unloading easier. I use the 28" aluminum peel with a 12-inch wood handle pictured here from American Metalcraft . If you need to save space, opt for a peel with a retractable handle from MiToo.
A rolling pin makes short work of rolling out a dough for pizza, stuffed focaccia, and sweet or savory pies. It's also a good tool for crushing nuts or spices (as long as they're in a plastic bag or kitchen towel). I like a heavy pin with handles as I find it makes the job easier such as the Farberware Classic Wood Rolling Pin, 17.75-Inch
The best whisks are made of metal, and have a nice, thick handle for easy grasping. The whisk is indispensable if you're making béchamel or other roux-based sauces, and a handy tool when you're making pancake or crêpe batter (not to mention when you're making zabaglione or other egg-mounted sauces).
Oxo is our go-to, easily available whisk, at 11 inches, it is big enough for big jobs but can easily fit in a drawer.
An instant read thermometer is essential for baking, sugar work, chocolate making, checking the doneness of meat and fish, and so much more. I use mine every day to gauge my sourdough bread temperature as it ferments, among other tasks. From left to right, my two favorites:
The Thermapen is top-of-the-line with a price to match
The ThermoPro TP18is also very reliable and a great deal
I used to reach for my blender less often than my food processor, but that changed when I bought the WolfGourmet Blender. This 64-oz.-capacity blender offers ultra-responsive speed control to reach your exact preferred consistency. You can make soup, blend drinks, chop vegetables, puree sauces, whip cream, churn butter, grind grains, create nut butters, and more.
Mortar and Pestle
Good for crushing garlic with salt to break down the fibers (it really is more digestible crushed than minced), or grinding peppercorns and spices (unless you buy an electric coffee grinder and use it as a spice grinder). Choose a mortar and pestle made of marble or stone, which retains less odors and flavors than wood, and is heavy enough not to slide all over the counter as you exert pressure. From top to bottom:
Mortaio da Cucina mortar in Italian marble with wooden pestle is handmade in Italy
ChefSofi 6-inch 2-cup capacity mortar is made of granite
I don't like wasting my time in the kitchen cleaning up. I choose stainless steel bowls, whose smooth surface is easy to clean up, for tossing greens with a dressing before distributing them on dinner plates, allowing dough to rise, marinating meat, and so on. They go in the dishwasher, but if there's no room, they take virtually no time to wash by hand, unlike some prettier glass or ceramic bowls. The best part: they can't break like glass or ceramic bowls do! If you buy a set of bowls in varying sizes, the added bonus is that they are stackable.Klee set of 6
Fundamental when making gnocchi, deep-frying food, and skimming homemade broth or jam. I like the one from Newness
I like using small bowls to keep sauces and chopped ingredients by the stove once I've readied them. I have a whole selection of bowls, mostly small ramekins and little stainless steel bowls; they take up little room on the counter and in the dishwasher, and keep everything organized as I cook. From left to right:
Ceramic ramekins do double duty as you can hold small amounts of prepped items in them, plus they can be used to bake souffles, custards, or serve mousse and other creamy preparations. The ones from Sweese are 8 ounces and come in a set of 6.
A set of small (1.5 ounce) stainless steel bowls is ideal for kitchen prep. The set of 12 from Tezzorio are an excellent choice.
Pretty white ceramic dip bowls in 2-ounce size from Ninepeak are both functional and pretty for liquids and solids.
A time-saver when you make salad often. A salad spinner allows you to thoroughly dry large quantities of salad or greens (spinach, arugula, watercress, and so on) in seconds. The added advantage, beside the speed and lack of effort, is that washed and very thoroughly dried greens or salad leaves can be kept fresh in a bowl, covered with a slightly damp towel or kitchen paper, for a day or two in the refrigerator. From top to bottom:
Our favorite is the 5-quart spinner from Oxo
Another reliable choice (and less expensive) is the 4.4-quart Italian spinner from Ozeri
Try using the peeler on more than just potatoes: cucumbers, zucchini (keep the ribbons of peel: they're succulent sautéed with garlic, chili, and lots of black pepper in a little olive oil), even pears for a salad. I prefer those with a fixed, rather than rotary, blade, because I feel they allow me more control over the food.
I love potato gnocchi, in fact, they were my favorite pasta growing up in Italy. I make them often at home and in my cooking classes, and have been using my Oxo potato ricer for almost 20 years.
This is THE spatula when it comes to removing every last drop of sauce from a bowl, pot, or food processor. If you hate wasting good food just because your spoon won't reach in the crevices of a receptacle, the rubber spatula is the tool you need. It's also ideal for folding beaten egg whites or whipped cream into a batter or purée.
And I can't stress this enough: when you choose a rubber spatula, test it to see how flexible it is. If it's stiff, don't buy it. A soft spatula will marry the sides of any surface it comes into contact with. Otherwise why bother with a rubber spatula in the first place? There really is a difference from manufacturer to manufacturer. Buy a few different sizes, widths, and lengths, each of which will be better suited to different containers. From top to bottom:
Oxo Set of 3 Silicone Spatulas includes a small, a medium, and a spoon spatula
DiOro rubber spatula is very durable and eminently flexible
Good for brushing egg wash over bread before baking, greasing phyllo dough as you layer it, and basting meat or fish as it roasts. If you plan to brush food on a hot grill, buy a longer brush. There are two choices: natural bristles or silicone; the former sometimes sheds and is harder to keep clean, but does a better job saturating the food with your chosen glaze or wash. From top to bottom: Oxo 1 and 1/2-Inch Natural Boar Bristle Brush and WarmBuy Set of 4 Silicone Brushes
It can be difficult at first to get used to a big chef's knife, but once you've got the hang of it, you'll never go back to ordinary kitchen knives. Choose a good quality, solid, heavy knife, preferably high carbon stainless steel (it won't rust and can be sharpened at home with a sharpening steel).
Store your chef's and other knives in a wall rack or, if space allows, a standing rack on the counter where you do prep work. Never wash good knives in the dishwasher; not only is it potentially dangerous when you retrieve them, it may dull the blade.
The blade varies in length and width, but an 8" blade is suitable for most purposes. Use the chef's knife to cut, slice, chop, mince, dice, julienne, or cube vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, herbs, even bread. The wide blade is useful for flattening vegetables (a garlic clove, stalk of lemongrass, or cube of ginger, for instance), and transferring food from the cutting board to a pot or other surface (just use the back of the knife to avoid dulling the blade). It's the handiest knife there is, as long as it's kept sharp.
My choice is the Zwilling Professional "S" 8-inch Chef' s Knife
A complete set of knives is a must in a busy kitchen. The 15-piece set from J. A. Henckels includes
a 3 inch Paring Knife, a 5 inch Serrated Utility Knife, a 7 inch Santoku Knife, a Hollow Edge knife, an 8 inch Chef's Knife, an 8 inch Bread Knife, six 4.5 inches Steak Knives, a Sharpening Steel, Kitchen Shears, and a Hardwood Block. It looks great on the kitchen counter and the knives last forever if you keep them sharp
A small knife ideal for peeling and trimming vegetables is a must in any kitchen: good for peeling onions, removing the stringy fibers from celery stalks, and so on. The blade should be about 2" to 4" long, and straight (though i like serrated knives, see below). From top to bottom:
The top of the line is the Classic High Carbon Steel Knife Paring Knife, 3.5 Inch from Wusthof
I like to use simple Italian lightweight steak knives for most paring jobs though; a set of 6 from InoxBonomi is a great asset to any kitchen
Every kitchen needs at least one good cutting board, though I prefer having at least two or three, so I can use one for meat or poultry and another for vegetables without having to wash them in between. An additional tip: place a wet paper towel under your board on the counter to prevent slipping.
You can go for plastic or wood, and the choice is very personal. I use plastic for daily kitchen work and wood for demonstrations as it looks nicer. Plastic should be non slip and heavy, and it is dishwasher safe; wood needs more finicky cleaning. Either way, I suggest a big (at least 12" by 8") cutting board. From top to bottom:
John Boos has a variety of exceptional wood boards; I like their 18-inch x 12-inch board best
Oxo's non slip cutting boards are a reliable and safe choice and last for years
If you use a lot of aromatic spices in your cooking, make your own spice pastes and powders, and often prepare dry rubs for marinades, a spice grinder will do the job beautifully. Use it instead of a mortar and pestle: it's faster, easier to control, and a lot less messy (have you ever tried to pulverize a cinnamon stick with a mortar and pestle?). Reserve the spice grinder for spices only: coffee in one, spices in another, unless you enjoy coffee that tastes of cumin. From top to bottom:
Secura Electric Spice Grinder and Coffee Grinder
I have dozens of wooden spoons of varying lengths and sizes, and love them all. They are wonderful because they do not scratch pots and pans, and there is nothing like a wooden spoon for stirring risotto: its rounded shape is ideal for snuggling into the pot's corners, ensuring every grain of rice gets evenly cooked.