When I was a college student, I had an amazing opportunity my grown-up self would have relished a whole lot more than my 20-year-old self did: For two and a half weeks, I stayed at my friend’s Italian grandmother’s tiny apartment in Turin. The pretense? Her nonna was going to teach us how to cook.
Our real goal was just having a free place to stay and a homey way to spend Christmas while we bummed across Europe. Italy was just one stop on an itinerary that included Denmark, Spain, Germany, and England. We paid a lot more attention to boys and updating our Facebook photo albums (it was a brand-new feature back then) than we did to her grandmother’s instructions—all barked in gruff Italian even though she had worked as an English translator for Fiat for decades.
Undeterred by our antics, Corinna’s nonna would get to it around 7 a.m. each morning, so that by the time we woke up, the house was filled with the sounds and smells of a bubbling stovetop and over-stuffed oven. Every meal, though simple, was three or four courses; whole walnuts and clementines were a consistent punctuation, even at breakfast, and even when dessert was already included. We did some of the cleaning, a good deal of the shopping, very little of the cooking, and all of the eating.
Despite the fact that I didn’t ask any of the right questions, a couple of her lessons (and probably a few extra pounds) stuck with me. I still do all the dishes—all of them—before I sit down to eat, and I sweep the kitchen floor every evening. I still have the hand-written recipe for gnocchi we wrote out at uncle Claudio’s house, and I’m confident I can make a vegetable soup out of literally anything. I still think that all a salad needs is good olive oil, good red wine vinegar, and a healthy sprinkling of salt all poured right into the bowl and tossed with your hands. I’ve been known to have a glass of red wine at lunch, even if it’s 11am on a Wednesday. My fridge has never seen a day without a giant hunk of Parmesan, and I’ll go very far out of my way to buy cheese, vegetables, or meats from someone I know, even if the alternative looks pretty decent. Sometimes I get out of bed just to cook.
What’s stuck with me the most, and maybe even informed my whole approach to food and cooking, was the joy she got from stuffing her loved ones (and even interlopers who couldn’t speak a word of Italian) full of her best efforts. That, and the best way to quickly dry or herbs or greens—a trick I’m going to share with you now because it’s extremely useful.
- Place your greens in a big bowl of cold cold cold water. It should almost hurt your hands it’s so cold.
- Move them around in the water until the dirt falls to the bottom, pull them out, pour out the water, and do it again until no more dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl.
- Spread out a clean kitchen towel on the table, and lay the greens in one single layer on top. Roll them up in the towel the long way (hot dog vs. hamburger, for anyone who used that paper-folding trick in grade school art class).
- Fold the rolled up towel end-to-end, with the seam on the inside, so that you’re holding both of the towel ends in one hand.
- Stand on your patio, balcony, backyard (or heck, just lean out the window), and whip the towel forward over your shoulder like you’re throwing a baseball. Don’t let go of the towel!! Repeat until barely any water comes off when you go through the whipping motion.
Thanks to this method, I’ve never owned (or missed) a salad spinner, and I’ve never made a soggy (or gritty) salad. The water should whip off right through the towel, so that when you unroll it, you’ve got mostly dry herbs or greens. All you need to do is give them a nice little pat with another dry towel and you’re good to go. If I’m being honest, I usually pat them with paper towels and then use the damp paper to wipe down my counters after cooking.
If you’re not going to use your washed salad right away, this is also a really great way to store washed greens or herbs in the fridge—instead of unrolling and patting, just put the damp, rolled up towel directly in the fridge. Once the towel gets bone dry, whatever’s inside will be dried out too, so if you’re not going to use them for a few days, place the rolled up towel in a plastic bag. In my experience, this will keep your greens and herbs fresh and crisp for a week or more.
Have you tried out the towel-whipping method of drying greens? Let us know about it in the comments!