I have lived in many many places but only twice have I lived in places with really large kitchens. One of them was big enough to waltz around: the butcher’s block looked like a toy in the middle of the floor and a good ten people could stand in a crowd between one side of the room and the other. But both before and since that dance floor of a cuisine, in the UK and France, in the US (ironically, in the country with the biggest homes I had the smallest kitchens) and in Spain (the smallest and not really a kitchen: more a fridge with a chopping board on top) I have usually been consigned to little more than a broom cupboard. My current kitchen is big enough for two people to stand in but no more and yet, out of all my kitchens, it is my favourite. Why? Because I can reach everything I need without moving. By standing at the crappy electric stove, I can reach the tiny under-counter fridge, the too-small draining board, all the dry ingredients and spices and all the pots. Only if I want a cake tin, a bottle of wine or the food processor do I need to move off my sweet spot and stand on a chair to reach them. It is both the smallest and the most functional. And, even though I have plans to update and improve it (dishwasher, did anyone say dishwasher?), alas I cannot really make it any bigger.
Which is why I was remarkably cheered, and inspired by this piece in the Guardian. Cheered because if the likes of Shaun Hill, Mark Bittman and smitten kitchen have all been equally confined, yet still produce great food, then I can too. Inspired because suddenly some of the crap lurking in my cupboards, few as they are, and on my two open shelves starts to look de trop which means that, aha, perhaps I have more space than I thought. I don’t have a lot of ‘spare’ foodstuffs, such as rarely used spices or forgotten tins of soup, but I do have a lot of glasses (I own about thirty and use about six), many of which I keep for sentimental not culinary purposes so some of those could go. I also have my Dad’s Peter Rabbit cups and saucers, which I shall never use though I’ll never throw them away either, lots of espresso cups (likewise on the using but, since I only ever drink coffee with milk in the morning, I could get rid of them), four lots of US measuring cups (I am about to give one away but that still leaves me with three…), several decorative but, erm, empty sardine tins, a handle-less fish kettle, a never-touched chocolate fondue set and a yogurt maker that I always plan to use then forget about. I would probably gain a whole cupboard just by ridding myself of that little lot.
I have been thinking about what is essential to a kitchen, and what is ephemeral, rather a lot this week because I have been testing some equipment and it has made me wonder what I really need. The things I use the most are two sharp, yet incredibly cheap, knives, my Raymond Blanc Anolon frying pan (if you don’t have a dishwasher these are the pans to buy; they are so easy to clean) and Le Creuset casserole dish, my Kenwood mixer (which, despite its size, is on the counter because I use it so often, particularly the blender) and, even though I have a rather knackered but functional food processor, I would much rather use my little manual Cuisipro grater for grating cheese, because it is easier to clean, easy to use and remarkably quick. My last blog was called Chop, Stir, Grate and I still believe that if you can use a knife, spoon and grater, and perhaps a blender, you’ll be able to cook and won’t need any other kit.
As I hope I show on this site, you can make an awful lot with very little. Today’s very tiny recipe is a case in point. At last Saturday’s cheese and wine festival, Patricia Michelson mentioned that parmesan crisps were a wonderful accompaniment to a dry white wine as a pre-dinner nibble. I didn’t quite believe her but I tried it and how right she was.
Parmesan crisps: how to
Grate some parmesan, very finely, put it in little piles on a sheet of greaseproof paper/baking parchment on a baking tray then bake in a hot oven (mine was at 200°C) until melted (at most a couple of minutes). Pull the tray out when the cheese seems to have turned to liquid and leave to cool. As the cheese cools down it will harden, leaving you with the most delicate and elegant of lattice cheese crisps.