Don't be fooled by the title of this book. Rustic Italian Food, by Marc Vetri, with David Joachim, is no simple little Italian cookbook. Then again, if you know anything about Marc Vetri, a chef's chef if there ever ever was one, this will not surprise you. Vetri is one of those guys who should inspire you to reach for the sky. He shows young (and not so young) cooks what it is possible to achieve if a person is passionate, motivated and focused. As you read his narrative it's easy to see why he is where is. Vetri shares laugh out loud stories, tinged with the passion of a chef. Both the narrative and the recipe headnotes are treasure troves of both information and entertainment. These tales will seem familiar to many, not because we were there, per se, but because we've "been there" at one time or another. His passion for food, the frustrations of an experienced chef, the nuances of the craft of cooking, and his unwavering (but not inflexible) belief in his vision of food are all there in a remarkably conversational style. It's almost like having Marc Vetri in your kitchen, which is a pretty cool thing.
If you simply flip through this book it's easy to miss how detailed the recipes are. It begins with bread, as most restaurant meals do. Vetri explains why it's such an integral part of his meal. It's the first book that I've come across that includes a recipe for the dough for either a chef's pasta extruder or the home cook's Kitchen Aid pasta extruder attachment. Vetri explains why he likes fresh extruded pasta, how to make it, how to dry it out for texture, and then gives us several great dishes, each easily adapted to dried pastas for those without an extruder. He continues on to fresh rolled pasta, giving special emphasis to the techniques that make each one special. There is a whole section on sausage and charcuterie, a particular passion of his. From beef speck to warm pork belly, from lamb mortadella to chorizo, from a potted trout terrine to swordfish sausage, there is something for everyone. The primer at the beginning of the chapter thoroughly explains the entire process with temperatures, ratios and background information presented to make the reader feel comfortable and well-informed. Meat fermentation, in spite of the success of CharcutePalooza, is still an intimidating prospect for many and Vetri gives us the tools we need to go forward with confidence. This chapter is followed by one on pickles and condiments that could be served with the charcuterie and could just as easily go with several other dishes, both sweet and savory, scattered throughout the book. I can't wait until spring to try my hand at artichoke mostarda. Just looking at the pictures fills me with ideas. Fresh herbs are everywhere in the book and that only makes sense because they add freshness and flavor to every dish they appear in.
Marc Vetri's rustic food is very family friendly, big on flavor, with detailed recipes that will make you want to cook. This is complemented by the photography. Pictures of food, cooking and his family are scattered through the pages. There are step by step photos of various techniques, and several include Vetri's family in the kitchen, mostly his older son Maurice, bringing home the idea that great food begins at home and anyone can cook it as long as they are willing to try. Recipes continue through vegetables, desserts and his version of basics, including a hand crushed marinara, corn crema, and chocolate sauce.
A great chef is always a good teacher. It is that particular skill that makes it possible to train your staff to reproduce your food to your standards, inspires your cooks to be excited to come to work in the morning and keeps you on your toes, constantly pushing yourself to learn more so as not to fall behind your students and peers. It's easy to sit at the top of the hill, it's much harder to build a castle there, fill it with people and defend it. A well seasoned chef acknowledges that not everyone may agree with their take on food and flavor but there's no arguing with solid technique and information. Those are presented in this book in spades.
Alex was at Amis last Sunday, scouting out the brunch scene. We like to make sure places are kid-friendly before bringing Amaya to dine. During the course of his meal both Brad Spence and Marc Vetri came in separately for brunch with their families. Clearly we'll be going back with our girl sometime very soon. While he was there, Marc graciously donated and signed a copy of his book for us to give away to one of you. To enter to win please leave a comment below telling us about someone who helped you learn to love cooking. One entry per person and please make sure there is an email address attached to your comment. Comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. If you have problems posting a comment (error message from Typepad) please email us and we will post it for you. Winner will be chosen on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 9am EST. This giveaway is now closed. Our winner C. Smith has been notifed via email. Thanks for all your great comments.