I’m not a gadget person, but there are a few kitchen gadgets I can’t live without. Number 1 is my stainless bench scraper, a flat scoop that I use to transport prepped ingredients from my cutting board to the stove. Without my bench scraper, half the chopped onions would end up on the floor. I consider it my third hand.
Running a close second in usefulness is my manual vegetable slicer. Like many professional cooks, I invested in a stainless French mandoline early in my culinary career. It set me back about $150 — a huge purchase for a young restaurant cook — but I thought I had to have it. With the mandoline, I could make perfect potato slices for gratins or julienne a whole celery root for celery remoulade.
Three decades later, I’m not even sure where that implement is. I haven’t used it in years. It got elbowed aside long ago by the V-slicer, an ugly plastic German-made device that cost me about $35. It’s a much smarter, more ergonomic design than the sleek French slicer, and rare is the day that I don’t reach for it.
The cutting blade on the V-slicer is V-shaped rather than straight. An engineer can tell us why this angle works better. I only know that it does.
I use my V-slicer to make impeccably thin slices of many vegetables, like fennel, cucumbers and red onion. Thin is in, if you haven’t noticed. Chefs dress up their salads with “shaved this” and “shaved that,” and with a V-slicer, you can, too.
A lot of the produce you’ll find at the Napa Farmers Market this week would benefit from a close shave. Some ideas:
Shave radishes. Arrange them on thin-sliced dark bread spread with ricotta or softened butter. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
Shave cucumbers and red onions. Salt them and let them drain in a sieve until they wilt a bit, then pat them dry and toss with a vinaigrette and chopped fresh dill. Add crumbled feta if you like.
Shave firm peaches. Add to a salad with leafy greens and feta.
Shave fennel and toss with radicchio, soft lettuce (both Gauchito Farm and Mossy Oak Farm have beautiful heads), lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.
Shave roasted golden beets. Layer with shaved fennel, sliced avocado and shaved ricotta salata cheese. Drizzle with vinaigrette.
Shave zucchini for squash “carpaccio.” Dress with vinaigrette and let stand until slightly wilted. Toss with spinach or arugula, toasted sliced almonds and shaved ricotta salata or pecorino. For more precise directions, see the recipe that follows.
The longer you own a V-slicer, the more uses you will discover for it. But please, be sure to use the safety guard that comes with it. We have 10 fingers, and we need them all.
Chef Demonstration: Boost your culinary IQ at the Napa Farmers Market. Join Meritage Resort chef Anthony Micari for a free cooking demonstration at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 28.
Zucchini Carpaccio with Arugula, Pecorino and Almonds
From “Eating Local” by Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel Publishing).
When shaved thinly with a manual slicer, vegetables that you might not normally eat raw present new possibilities. Long, straight-sided summer squashes like green and gold zucchini look like wide ribbons when shaved for this salad. A brief rest in garlicky vinaigrette renders them supple, so they can be tossed with arugula and shavings of salty cheese.
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 pound small zucchini, preferably green and yellow varieties, no more than 5 inches long
2½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced to a paste
Kosher or sea salt
2 large handfuls of arugula or other tender greens (about 3 ounces)
Chunk of ricotta salata or medium-aged pecorino cheese, for shaving
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden brown and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
Remove the ends of the zucchini. With a V-slicer, shave the zucchini thinly lengthwise. Discard the first and last slices, which are mostly skin. Put the zucchini ribbons in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt to taste. Add the dressing to the shaved zucchini and toss with your hands to coat it evenly. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Let stand 5 minutes to allow the zucchini to soften.
Add the arugula to the zucchini. With a cheese plane or vegetable peeler, shave about 3 ounces of cheese, or as much as you like, into the bowl. Add several grinds of black pepper, then toss gently with your hands. Transfer the salad to a serving platter, leaving any watery juices behind. Top with the toasted almonds. Serve immediately.
The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May through October, in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. The third Tuesday of every month is Seniors’ Day at the market, with some vendors offering discounts to shoppers 65 and older. Ask about participating vendors at the information booth. For more market information and a schedule of upcoming events, visit NapaFarmersMarket.org or visit the market on Facebook.