Mom’s apartment is cleaned out. My dining room, once the scene of messy devastation, looks more like controlled chaos now that boxes are consolidated, some items are donated, others are sorted and more are stashed elsewhere. For awhile, you could not walk through without tripping over or stubbing something.
Of all the kitchen paraphernalia she had, I kept two items: her garlic press and her mezzaluna. Except she never would have called it a mezzaluna. It was a chopper. I used the term “mezzaluna” once, and she had no idea what I was talking about.
I have no actual use for a garlic press. I detest the idea of using one. I think it wastes too much of the clove, and it’s just another item to clean (and an impossible item to get really clean, at that). And I am enough of a foodie snob to think that chopping, slicing or smashing garlic with a knife is a basic kitchen skill that is so easily learned, a garlic press is tantamount to cheating. Of course, you could sliver garlic, like they did in Goodfellas, but I think that’s taking things a bit far.
I grew up with a lot of garlic, and love it. Mom used it in anything Italian and in a lot of Jewish dishes as well. My cousin Sylvia was famous for her chicken with forty cloves of garlic, which is far more delicate and sublime than it sounds. Handled gently, garlic sweetens and mellows as it cooks, and you can enjoy the cloves right out of the casserole dish, soft and almost slipping off the fork and back into the plate. A nice crust of hearty bread was always useful in catching a wayward clove.
The chopper, which was always nestled inside an old wooden bowl, has an almost straight blade, not the half-moon shape of the modern mezzaluna. The handle allowed for your hand to fit inside, rather than holding it around. It was a red handle, but the color is all but gone to a dull gray now. What did mom make in that bowl, with that chopper? Tuna salad, egg salad, salmon mix for croquettes. Chopped onions for everything. Chopped celery. The meat mix and spices for meatballs. Diced potatoes and leftover corned beef for hash. The combination of bowl and chopper was the Cuisinart, the Robo-Coupe of its day. Mom had a very distinctive rhythm when she chopped. Chopper edge would meet bowl a few times, then scraping down all the sides, then chop again, then scrape. Funny, I have the same technique. I own two Cuisinarts, one full-size and a mini, plus professional knives, but I still like my bowl and chopper. OK, mezzaluna, in my case.
Her press and chopper are in one of my kitchen drawers, stored away from the other utensils. I have no good reason to keep or store them that way. Just a reminder of good meals and good times past.