From the Italian word for "half moon," which its curved shape resembles, a mezzaluna food chopper is a handy utensil that bridges the gap between a chef's knife and a food processor. The mezzaluna's curved steel blade easily chops small amounts of herbs, onions and garlic, and can handle other ingredients too. Here's how to handle a mezzaluna food chopper.
Familiarize yourself with your mezzaluna. These half moon choppers come in several different styles, and in single-, double- and even triple-bladed versions. Yours may have two knob-like handles, one on each end of the crescent, or a single handle you grasp like that of a saw. There's even a model that resembles an inverted stainless steel taco shell with a flattened top.
Choose your chopping surface. The ideal surface for a mezzaluna is a thick wooden board with a scooped out indentation that matches the curve of the blade; the knife and board are often sold in sets. You can use a wooden bowl, too, but these tend to rock around on the counter. If all else fails, you can use your mezzaluna on a regular flat chopping board or block, but the food will tend to need corralling.
Prepare the food for chopping. A mezzaluna works best on foods that are on the hard and dry side, like garlic cloves, onions, nuts, hard cheeses, celery, dried fruits and even meats. Pat extra moisture from herbs and other rinsed foods before chopping, and cut large vegetables, cheese and meats into smaller portions for chopping and mincing.
Place a small batch of food to be chopped on the cutting surface. If you have a two-handled mezzaluna, grasp one handle in each hand and rock the blade back and forth to chop the food. If you have a saw-handled mezzaluna, grasp the handle with the fingers of one hand and use your thumb to brace the chopper as you rock it back and forth through the food. The advantage of the one-handled mezzaluna is that you can use your other hand to hold herbs steady or move food closer to the blades. But be careful.
Rock the mezzaluna back and forth and move it around the cutting surface until the food is chopped to the desired consistency. Carefully wipe excess moisture or sticky bits of food from the blade in between batches. If you're using a double- or triple-bladed mezzaluna, use a wooden or metal skewer (not your fingers) to clear bits of chopped food that get trapped between the blades.
Wash your mezzaluna by hand. Dry it carefully and store it in the protective sleeve that it came with. Wooden mezzaluna chopping boards or bowls should be washed following manufacturers' directions, and may need an occasional rubbing with mineral oil to protect the wood.
You can find small, inexpensive mezzalunas, but a chef's knife will do a better job. Choose a mezzaluna with a blade length of 6 to 8 inches, in the highest grade steel you can afford; it will hold the best edge. Use a larger 8- or 9-inch mezzaluna to slice pizza.
Mezzaluna blades are very sharp. Be especially careful when using a one-handled mezzaluna not to let your other hand get too close to the blade. Never let a child use a mezzaluna.