If you're itching to make fancy zucchini fettuccine, but you don't want to commit to a spiral slicing machine, the Mastrad Spiral Veggie Slicer ($14.99) may just be your new best friend. Yes, okay, I'm sure Chef Morimoto could carve zucchini into ribbons with a chef's knife, but normal mortals probably need some sort of a tool. The advantage of this one over a spiral-cutting machine is that it's small and simple, and the pieces nest together for more compact storage. The downside is that it takes a bit more effort than a machine.
There are four pieces included in the kit: three are for cutting, with blades for small, medium and very large ribbons. The fourth piece, with three prongs, holds the vegetable as it gets shorter (or from the get-go, if you're using something small to begin with, like a radish). It works much like a giant pencil sharpener—insert the vegetable into the slicer and twist-twist-twist to shave ribbons off the vegetables.
Because of the size of the opening, you're limited to vegetables that will fit. So, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and other smaller-diameter vegetables are fine—figure 2 1/4 inches or less. Giant baking potatoes, rutabagas, and those baseball-bat-sized zucchini are a no unless you trim them to fit.
Just for giggles, I cut a potato into a square shape to see how the slicer would handle non-round vegetables, and it worked just fine. The strips that it cut as it worked through the edges of the square were short, but once those points were gone, I got nice, long ribbons—pretty much continuous—from the rest of the spud.
Just like the larger spiral slicing machines, you end up with a small uncut core of vegetable (a.k.a. a snack for the prep cook) but the core from this product was significantly smaller, so you end up with more usable shaved product. That said, the firmness of the vegetable in question definitely makes a difference in how well the slicers work. Carrots, zucchini, and radishes were just fine, but I had a cucumber that was verging on soft and it didn't slice as well as I'd hoped. Then again, another, firmer, cucumber was fine, and ultimately what I'd want to serve, anyway.
Since the cutting blade is inside the device, you'd have to work really hard at cutting yourself while the device is in-use, which also makes it safer for kids. As the vegetable gets shorter, the only sane way to keep cutting is to use the holder, so fingers are well-protected then, as well.
Plus, cleanup was easy—all the parts are dishwasher safe. When cleaning the blades between vegetable types, I rinsed and used a bottle brush to dislodge bits from the blades, and that was simple enough. Although it's made mostly from plastic, it seems pretty durable—I've dropped pieces a few times with no damage—so barring any encounters with a lawnmower or pit bull, they should last quite a long time.
My verdict? If you're going to be making zucchini fettuccine a regular part of your family's diet, then a spiral-cutting machine might be worth the storage space. But if you're looking for a fun and easy tool for making garnishes, crazy salads, fun vegetable side dishes, and an occasional veggie-pasta meal, this definitely makes more sense.
Disclaimer: Testing samples were provided to Serious Eats.