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Over the course of my life, there have been a handful of key culinary moments that felt eerily similar to when Dorothy takes her first steps out of her world of black and white and into the colorful empire of Oz. Though not as profound as surviving a tornado and embarking on a journey with a band of mystical characters, these kitchen moments were all classic “lightbulb turning-on” scenarios.
These memories include the evening when, despite my lifelong aversion to tomatoes (forgive me, tomato girls), I discovered that roasted cherry tomatoes over pasta was the stuff of dreams. Also, after a leisurely evening of legal and responsible cannabis consumption, I concocted a dessert of vanilla Greek yogurt, PB2, and Target’s s’mores trail mix, when my revolutionary “yogurt sundae” came to be. And most recently, the first time I ever used a microplane zester.
I’ve never been a particularly skilled cook or baker — my expertise begins and ends at five-ingredient Trader Joe’s meals. But when my mother-in-law Pam (who, it must be said, is a phenomenal cook who navigates her dairy and gluten intolerances with the gastronomic dexterity of a Michelin-star chef) shared with me the healing powers of the microplane zester, I was transformed.
Before I get into the many uses that my microplane serves in my humble kitchen, let me explain why I went so long without venturing into the world of microplane. Raised in a typical ’90s single-use, pre-sliced household that prioritized convenience and efficiency, I saw no need for a grater of any sort in my kitchen. At some point, I inherited a block grater from my grandmother and put it to work shredding string cheese over lasagna when I discovered I’d foolishly left mozzarella off my shopping list. Scraping such a tubelike, semi-soft cheese against the jagged surface of a grater that survived World War II did not produce the calming, luxurious cooking experience promised by Nigella Lawson. Plus, the box took up valuable space in my one-bedroom apartment’s modest galley kitchen.
My microplane zester, a gift from Chef Pam, hits every mark. At $10, it’s extremely affordable. It’s also so easy to use compared to my block grater, and fits snugly in my utensil drawer without monopolizing any much-needed space. If it weren’t for my weekly batch of carottes rapées (French grated carrot salad — try it, it’s life-changing) for my Girl Dinners, I’d do away with my box grater altogether!
The delicate blades of my microplane paired with the ease of the sturdy, easily-maneuvered shape won me over easily. For instance, the typical prep time for my signature cannoli cake — it requires the zest of lime and orange, which is noticeably absent when omitted — was literally sliced in half! The microplane also shines when grating ginger or garlic, and provides efficient and precise measurements of grated hard cheeses like Parmesan. There’s something so satisfying about grating Parmesan directly over a piping hot pasta dish as opposed to shaking a green container of white confetti-like cheese with wood pulp as an ingredient. And when I’m done prepping my delicious cake or Sunday night pasta, the microplane is easy to clean and stow away effortlessly. What’s not so easy? Keeping my family’s hands off my dang cannoli cake, mamma mia!
Buy: Deiss PRO Lemon Zester & Heavy Duty Cheese Grater, $10.98