The Mezzaluna Is the Meal Prep Tool You Never Knew You Needed—Here's Why

What everybody needs in the kitchen: a $15 tool that saves time.

Many American cooks cut, chop, and dice using a European-style chef's knife, while in some cultures, they use cleavers. Others use a mortar and pestle, molcajete, or similar tool that grinds and collects. But here's another instrument; similar to the curved, two-handled blade used in Italy and Italian America: the mezzaluna.

A mezzaluna (an Italian word meaning "halfmoon") is shaped like a contact lens: like a bow without the arrow. From the halfmoon's tips project handles of two or three inches each, often plastic and easy to grip, sometimes with finger molds. To use a mezzaluna, wrap your fingers around these handles as you would the pole of a beach umbrella—thumb curled around to touch your fingers. The blade faces down and its curve bumps out (convex). A mezzaluna can have one, two, or three blades between its handles.

If you like to keep things light in the kitchen, you should probably invest in a mezzaluna; they're a lot of fun to use. High-end, multi-handled mezzalunas cost more than $100, but there's no need to spend that much. You can find a great-performing gadget for less than $15. They don't allow for precision knifework like chef's knives do, but not many home cooks have restaurant-level knife skills, and you don't always need a perfect dice on that onion. When you opt to use a mezzaluna, you're opting to save serious time and have fun.

What's more, the blade serves several practical purposes. For example: With a mezzaluna, you can finely chop garlic, especially if yours has more than one blade. The beauty of the curved blade is that you can cut more than one ingredient at a time, so you can make gremolata or pesto in a jiff. Once you master the two-handed rocking motion, you can cut basil, garlic, and pine nuts all at once. And sure, a pizza wheel or culinary scissors works, but you can also use a large mezzaluna to cut pizza into slices.

The way it works is simple: Gather what you need chopped, break out a trusty cutting board, and place your ingredients (say, half an onion or a head of romaine) in the middle of the cutting board. Next, lift up one handle while the other is down, and then bring the down-side up while the up-side goes down. Repeat this motion until the rocking of the blade's curve reduces the onion or lettuce to pieces. The longer you use this tool, the finer the cuts.

While you're chopping, the motion is in the wrists and forearms. There's no need to involve your legs or hips, although I like to—much to the amusement of my grandmother, who grew up in a kitchen where the mezzaluna was used regularly. She would combine ingredients for Roman-style artichokes (garlic, mint, breadcrumbs, and cheese) and dice them altogether with a mezzaluna, reducing the mixture to a fine blend to be spread on artichokes, and then braised or baked.

No, you don't have to move your hips. But why not? Using a mezzaluna is about embracing the fun of being in the kitchen. Sure, a European-style chef's knife is more efficient but—though cooking for you and your family calls for efficiency—spending time with family and friends in the kitchen shouldn't be about embracing every last efficiency in your process, making everything as streamlined as can be. Cooking should be fun, and that's what this tool reminds you.

Next time you see a garlic press, corn corer, or other marginally useful kitchen tool; remember the quirky and useful mezzaluna. This cool-looking device is steeped in cultural history and practical: It can segment a mean pizza, pinsa, or focaccia; and can chop more than one ingredient at a time, folding multiple chopping steps into one. Most importantly, it brings fun back to cooking, and that alone makes it worth using.

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