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When Rolando Beramendi talks about olive oil he becomes suddenly, surprisingly serious. Like an impassioned prophet, he extols the green-gold liquid of the Mediterranean because, he claims, whatever it touches is miraculously transformed. In its company, “everything tastes better.”
Like many Italian chefs, Beramendi is sustained by a commitment to quality: Simple ingredients of the utmost caliber produce the best dishes. Having spent the majority of his career importing Italian goods to the U.S., Beramendi knows quality. It is this ethos that undergirds his recent cookbook, Autentico: Cooking Italian, The Authentic Way.
At 22 years old, a plucky Beramendi, who only just graduated from the University of California at Davis, began to lay the groundwork of an importing business. Three years later he had established Manicaretti and began to ship products from Italy to his home in Sausalito. Since then, Beramendi’s passion for the flavors, tastes, and goods of his home country (specifically Florence, where he splits his time) has only deepened, spreading to cooks, chefs, and vendors along the way. “My whole work is about putting people together, cooking, and sharing. Bringing Americans over there, then bringing Italians over here. Many people call me the Golden Gate Bridge to Italy.”
Beramendi's latest project takes sharing all things Italian to a new level. Autentico is as much a cookbook as it is an homage to the Italian pantry, with the first 35 pages devoted to specifications for a catalog of pantry items. “You know how books always have the resources in the back, I basically tried to flip it around,” he explains. He breaks down olive oil by type, classification, and usage. He does the same with tomatoes and their many iterations, be they canned or crushed, peeled or preserved. The page on salt and pepper, he tells me, might be the most important of the entire book. It’s this commitment to what's in a cabinet and, above all, the quality, that makes Autentico feel so comprehensive and so useful.
"It’s very important to have a well-stocked pantry and a well-stocked kitchen. I’m a minimalist so I don’t have a lot of equipment, but I think that once you have a wonderful pantry full of wonderful products, you have everything you need.”
Of particular note to me, was the book’s page on kitchen organization. Here, Beramendi details what he considers to be the essential elements of an efficient kitchen. The list is surprisingly concise. He wastes no breath for single use objects, opting instead for equipment that guarantees lots of uses over time.
Be and become a kitchen minimalist.
I have very little equipment in mine and therefore you will notice in the recipes of Autentico that you don't need to have lots of different tools. Basics such as durable pots, saucepans, and roasting pans in varying sizes; sharp knives (a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife); a Dutch oven; and heavy-duty baking sheets are essential. Buy the best quality items you can afford and they will last a lifetime. Here are some other essentials I have in my kitchen in Firenze:
An 8- to 10-quart pot with a draining insert is an indispensable kitchen tool. With the insert, you can make and easily strain brodetto, broth, pasta, and vegetables; without the insert, the pot can be used for preparing soups and stews. The pot should be wide, rather than tall and narrow, for easier cooking, cleaning, and storage, and the insert should be deep, rather than shallow.
Nine- and 12-inch tongs are essential for tossing pasta with sauce and salads; turning meat, seafood, and vegetables when grilling; and hundreds of other uses.
Mortar and Pestle
A mortar is a bowl, made of wood or stone, and a pestle is a long club-shaped tool used to crush or grind herbs and spices or make sauces. They come in many sizes and a range of prices. I have three or four sizes in my kitchen, from a small one to crush spices to a large one to make pesto and pastes.
A sturdy 10-inch round springform pan with a bottom and a locking, removable band is helpful when making savory tortes and many desserts. The band should fit the bottom tightly so there is no leaking.
12-inch Straight-Sided Skillet with a Lid
Italians tend to cook pasta sauces in a large skillet, then add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss, rather than mixing everything together in a bowl (which keeps the dish warm as long as possible). The skillet is placed on a trivet on the table and the pasta with sauce is dished out into warm bowls. A large skillet is handy for sautéing and braising vegetables.
While I use my fingers to tear up herb leaves, many cooks snip them with scissors which can also be used to cut up leftover spaghetti for soups. Throughout Abruzzo, scissors and a few spicy peperoncini are placed on the table so each person can add the desired amount of heat to pasta or other dishes.
Grater or Zester
A sharp, stainless-steel rasp zester or Microplane is all you need. It is ideal for grating Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, as well as lemon and orange zest. And it's essential for grating nutmeg into mashed potatoes as well as cinnamon sticks into panettone bread pudding.
Could you adopt the Autentico attitude? Let us know what you think in the comments.