Making the most of a certain underrated (but extremely useful) kitchen gadget

I received a lot of really cool Christmas gifts this year, most of which have something to do with food or cooking.  In amongst the obligatory but much-needed presents like socks and toiletries was a wine decanter, a meat thermometer, a set of goblet-sized stemless red wine glasses, a few cookbooks and a beautiful Krups espresso/coffee drinks maker.   And yes, I did in fact find a nice shiny clementine stuffed into the toe of my stocking on Christmas morning.  “Santa” must have read my blog!

One gift I’m really looking forward to using is my new mandoline—the kitchen tool, that is, not the instrument.  A mandoline is one of those underrated kitchen gadgets that few people have but many would benefit from if you do a decent amount of cooking.  The device looks like a cross between a miniature guillotine and a cheese grater and is designed to slice foods thinly and uniformly.

If you’re thinking, ‘so what? I can do that with a knife!’ then you are sorely (and perhaps dangerously) mistaken.  Slicing vegetables to the perfect not-too-thick-but-not-too-thin dimension requires not only a steady chef-trained hand but also an extremely sharp blade.  Plus, you have to painstakingly slice each piece the same thickness every single time, leaving ample room for error.  Some more reasons why you should use a mandoline?  You can’t make evenly cooked homemade potato chips without one, and there’s no way you can carve a crinkle-cut shape by hand.  Well, at least not perfectly.

The first thing I wanted to make with my shiny new mandoline was a zucchini “pasta” complete with a delicious medley of raw veggies, nuts and a hearty sauce.  I figured a light meal consisting of fresh zucchini rather than energy-dense pasta would be fitting for the winter season; the vast majority of us list weight loss as our number one new year’s resolution.  Whether or not you’re looking to eat a little healthier this year, this mock pasta dish will leave you hungry for more.  The best part?  You won’t even notice that the actual pasta is missing.

All you need is 4-5 medium-sized zucchinis and whatever pasta dressings you like.  Unfortunately I came up with this recipe in the winter, because in the summer months I have fresh zucchinis coming out of my ears (or rather, my backyard garden).  I like to do two variations: one with a simple basil-spiked tomato sauce, and another with creamy alfredo sauce and pine nuts.  Both are extremely filling and delicious.

Recipes and photos to follow!

While I’m on the topic, here are some more great uses for a mandoline:

  • Quickly slice some spuds for a scalloped potato dish or gratin
  • Whip up turnip, sweet potato, carrot or beet chips by slicing them very thinly and baking or deep-frying them
  • Make crinkle cut vegetables like carrots and zucchini for stir fries
  • Thinly slice large quantities of onion for a burger accompaniment or stir fry
  • Julienne veggies such as celery, carrots, peppers, turnip, apple or cucumber for an instantly gourmet-looking meal

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