Earth colours and flavours

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These earthenware cazuelas are definitely part of my essential kitchen equipment, well worn, chipped and some slightly cracked, they are used almost every day.  As soon as one of these dishes begins to heat up on the hob or in the oven a characteristic earthy smell fills the kitchen and I’m sure that they add flavour to anything that is cooked in them.  They are widely available in markets and shops here and over the border in Catalunya and Spain, sold with varying advice on how to treat them to make them last ‘for ever’.  I don’t believe that they do last for ever, but they aren’t expensive so if one does crack too badly it can be replaced.  When they’re new they should be soaked for an hour or so in water before use, but after that I find that so long as they are heated slowly, on a low flame to start with if used for cooking on gas, they last for years.

I used one today to make a chorizo, pumpkin and haricot bean stew – very simply, with tinned beans added near the end of the cooking time when the pumpkin was done.

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Wood

A couple of years ago during the winter I began a series of posts on kitchen essentials but I didn’t keep it up, I suppose because there were always other topics to post.  Today I looked around the kitchen and noticed how many different wooden pieces I use every day.  I thought it was time to resurrect the series.

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Clockwise from top left: my great-grandmother’s bread board, showing the cuts of well over a century of bread knives, and its edge carved with the words ‘Waste Not’; a wooden tortilla turner that we bought in Navarra, one of Lo Jardinièr’s essentials as he’s the tortilla-maker usually; an assortment of spoons, fork, spatula and tongs, including the large spoon second from right that my mother bought in Turkey fifty years ago and that has been well used ever since; a lemon squeezer; my first proper kitchen knife (in those days they had wooden handles) that I’ve used since I was eighteen; and under these a chopping board made for us by our son.  There are others….I think there’ll have to be a Part II for this one!

>Hibernation, and the first of an occasional series

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When the weather’s like this …

DSC00995 DSC00998 We don’t usually get mist here, but we did today.

we go to the garden to pick lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, cauliflowers, leeks, chard and herbs, but it’s too cold and damp to spend a lot of time there.

Spending more time in the house means we’ve been thinking more about cooking and the kitchen, so I’m starting an occasional series of the things that we feel make up our essential batterie de cuisine or kitchen equipment.

Essential batterie de cuisine – 1: A knife

I’m not sure yet how many of these essentials there will be, and I don’t want to rank them all, but the most important for me is a very good knife.

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Ever since I was eighteen I’ve had a good kitchen knife and a steel to sharpen it. I bought this one about five or six years ago and it’s the best one I’ve ever had. It’s heavy with a comfortable handle and a curved blade. I use it to cut meat and vegetables and to chop herbs and garlic. The curved blade is essential for the rocking motion you need for chopping. It needs to be very sharp – sharp knives are safer than blunt ones as you have more control. A good knife will also be expensive – at least 30 to 40 euros (or pounds sterling) – but it will last a lifetime and will be worth every centime/penny. If I had to choose just one kitchen implement to take to a desert island it would be this knife.

A few other knives ….

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The large knife at the top (above) was my first knife which I’ve had for forty years – as I said, they last a lifetime and this one still looks as it did then, apart from the nice worn effect on the wooden handle. The sharpening steel in the first picture came with it and I use it regularly. It is said that the same person should always sharpen a knife as everyone does it differently and it’s better for the blade to sharpen it with the same action every time. Lo Jardinièr uses these knives, but I’m always the one who sharpens them. When I started using my first set of knives I was afraid of their sharpness and even used to have nightmares about them, but experience has shown me that you are far more likely to cut yourself with a blunt knife than with a sharp one.

The small black-handled knives are two of a set of three we bought for 10 euros at the market in Narbonne a few years ago. They’re useful for peeling vegetables and slicing charcuterie and cheese, and they need regular sharpening too, but they could never replace a good large kitchen knife.

Buying a knife

When you buy a knife you should try holding it to make sure it feels comfortable to you. It should feel quite heavy as the weight helps you to cut with it. It should be of good quality and expensive – it’s a lifetime investment. You can buy and use cheap saucepans and chopping boards, but you need a good knife. It should be big enough – with a blade 18 to 20 cm long. And remember to buy a sharpening steel as well – you’ll want to use it so much it won’t stay sharp for long! And never put a good kitchen knife in the dishwasher.