Zen and the art of knife maintenance
Hello, my friends,
what’s your relation with kitchen knives? I love my kitchen and table knives. There is hardly anything else that makes cooking so pleasurable and relaxing.
Years ago, my friend Yumiko introduced me to the joys of Japanese knives. She gave me a beautiful Santoku that spends almost more time in my hands than somewhere else in the kitchen.
It might come as a surprise but for 30 years, despite being a passionate cook, I have never sharpened a knife. Ruurd sharpened the knives.
When our lives were swept away by a storm, the knives were neglected.
Meanwhile, I had to manage - mostly by myself - the huge process of closing our family business, moving to a new apartment in a large city and negotiating Rome’s wild traffic as well as its byzantine bureaucracy.
I must admit, I was miserable about blunt knives. I was also a bit intimidated by the idea of sharpening a Japanese knife. What if I ruined it?
Days ago, on a quiet Sunday morning, I had a moment of peace. I felt brave and focused.
I dug my Japanese whetstone from the very back of a cabinet. I soaked it in water, watching the tiny air bubbles escape from it. I started to swing the knife on the stone.
I discovered that it’s not so difficult. The stone has two sides, a coarser one and a finer one marked by numbers. The smaller the number (e.g. 1000), the coarser the grit.
Soak the stone in water, then start with the coarse side. Determine the sharpening angle by placing two fingers on the blade so that you also touch the stone at the same time. Make sure the bevel - i.e. the angle that leads up to the edge -is flush with the stone. Holding that angle, gently swing the entire blade on the surface of the whetstone.
Knives are ground single or double bevel and the bevels might have been ground at different angles on each side. If you have a double bevel knife, sharpen both sides, adjusting the angle if needed.
Repeat the swinging on the finer side of the stone (e.g. 6000) to polish the edge. Stop when you are tired or your knife easily cuts a sheet of printing paper in two.
The process is very soothing and relaxing. Also, there is comfort in doing something that - for once -is not too difficult and makes your life better.
Sharpen your knives. Play nice music. Cook great food.
Best meditation in the world.
I’ve started to do cooking classes in Rome, hurray! Have a glimpse of my new adorable kitchen. The smile on the face of my new friend Shane says it all, right? I can assure you that his lovely wife Larisa was smiling as much from the other side of the camera.
Launching the MDP Test Kitchen!
I have been working intensively on the Test Kitchen project. My deepest gratitude goes to all of you who keep sending wonderful messages and pledged a paid subscription to support my work.
Also, thank you for your poll vote in my previous post about the goals we want to pursue while testing recipes. The overwhelming majority has voted “adding more vegetables to my menus” and “improving my pasta and risotto skills”.
As a consequence of your suggestions, and with an eye to the impending holidays, I would like to start with a recipe that
includes pasta generously added with vegetables
can be prepared in advance and freezes well
lends itself to seasonal variations
the vegetarian version is as delicious as the one that includes meat
…and here it is:
Creamy squash lasagna
A delicious roasted squash vegetarian lasagna, light and flavourful with delicate layers of melted cheese. What is there not to love?
How are we going to test this recipe and why you should join
First of all, please note that for now the Test Kitchen - normally reserved for paid subscribers - is open to all, so please get ready to cook and come back to talk about it!
The main advantage for you to join this project is personalized attention.
How many times did you make a recipe which might have been less than satisfactory and you didn’t know why? or you have wished to make a variation but did not know how? Or it just did not taste like in Italy?
Did you also think it would have been wonderful to ask the recipe's author?
Now you can share with me your ideas, difficulties, and successes with a recipe I will post monthly using the chat reserved for subscribers. It will be the next best thing to just being all together in my kitchen in Rome.
Recipe links and testing info
Download the PDF below with instructions on how to test and you are ready to go!
Once you have command of a certain cuisine or recipe, you can make variations that are as delicious as the original.
Comparing the two squash lasagna recipes, you will notice that the vegetarian version uses sharp cheese to offset the sweetness of the squash. On the other hand, the meat version uses mild cheeses to complement the robust flavor of sausages.
In addition, you will find in each a different way to cook the squash to arrive at a similar result. Please feel free to choose one or try them both and report your endeavors in the chat.
What to change
Per se, the two recipes are a variation of a classic white lasagna, meaning a no-tomato lasagna where the sauce is either béchamel-based or ricotta-based like mine. If you wish you can create additional variations by using different cheeses, adding sauté mushrooms or a different vegetable for the sauce, e.g. spinach, zucchini, peas, and if you live somewhere where they are in season, asparagus or artichokes.
Don’t skip soaking the pasta sheets, it’s a quick step but it makes all the difference. Lasagna with no boil sheets only cooks well with large amounts of liquid/sauce which we don’t have in this recipe.
Don’t use thick curly lasagna sheets, the texture is entirely different from the one intended for our test and again they are suitable for rich and liquid sauces
Are you in?
Please let me know by leaving a comment below and/or joining the chat using the button above. A presto!