The blade of a good and proper mezzaluna is sharpened on both sides, about 8 to 10 inches across and capped by sturdy handles. Mezzalunas come smaller and they also come with one curved handle – making them more full- than half-moon. However, this is a case in which bigger is better – the longer blade is more efficient; and two is twice as good as one – the double handles give you more control.
And you use that control to rock the mezzaluna’s blade. Think of the rocking motion of a big chef’s knife wielded by a cook with great knife skills. That’s what you’re after with the mezzaluna and you can get it with just a few minutes’ practice. It feels a little like cheating, but you’ll get over the guilt as soon as you see your beautifully cut herbs piling up on the counter.
You can use a mezzaluna on a flat cutting board or in a wooden bowl. I find the board easier, but let me know what works for you. My grandmother used a small round handled mezzaluna – actually, more like a chopper – in a scarred and worn wooden bowl that fit it perfectly. It was her version of the food processor and she used the duo to make her terrific chopped liver with deeply browned onions and chicken fat. She was fast, but she might have been even faster than a processor had she had a bigger mezzaluna.
Here’s the pasta that Carol made. It’s a recipe she brought back from Italy and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tasted. (Please, tell me if it’s familiar to you and from where – I’m so curious about it.) Carol’s directions are as follows: Sauté 2 finely chopped shallots in a little olive oil until they’re soft – you need a big pot for this; a Dutch oven is good here. Add a jar of good anchovies – Carol’s preference is for anchovies in a jar rather than a tin – and cook until they melt. Peel, seed and cut a cantaloupe into large bite-size chunks – a cantaloupe for 4 people is what Carol said. Add the melon to the pot and cook over low heat until the melon has released its juice – there’ll be a lot of juice – and is fork tender. At this point, Carol says you’re supposed to add a stick of butter, but she said she couldn’t bring herself to do that. However, she added that the sauce is so much better with butter, so I leave it to you. When the sauce is ready, add cooked and drained spaghetti to the pot – it’s best to cook the spaghetti just a minute short of al dente because it’s going to cook a little longer with the sauce. Add a handful of chopped parsley to the pot, stir everything together (tongs do a good job here) and, when the pasta is hot and perfectly cooked, serve in shallow soup plates or pasta bowls.
I haven’t made this yet, but I’m going to try it this weekend. If you make it, let me know how it goes.