Marc Vetri’s Il Viaggio di Vetri is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, and absolutely the best Italian cookbook I’ve ever owned. However, the average home cook may find a large chunk of the recipes in that book nigh un-executable (the pear mostarda recipe takes almost 3 days to prepare!). To answer those calls, Chef Vetri (he owns and helms several restaurants in Philadelphia including Osteria and Vetri) has produced a follow-up cookbook of simpler recipes that take his fine dining expertise and spin it upon classic, home-style Italian favorites.
Whilst perusing the book, I tried out the Napoletana pizza dough recipe. Possibly the most complicated recipe in the book, the only prior preparation required is a simplified starter to be prepared the night prior. The pizza sauce recipe in the book is riduclously simple; load up a 1L plastic container with drained, canned tomatoes, salt, olive oil and fresh basil. Insert stick blender and go to town. Takes an easy breezy 5 minutes (pending can opener proficiency) to whip up while my oven preheats. The pizza (Margherita, obviously) came out perfect, or as perfect as one can get in a home convection oven (and I don’t think Mr. Vetri will be including wood-fired hearths with subsequent books to remedy this); puffy, chewy crust, drooping ever so slightly when picked up (I ate with knife and fork at first, but the distance from plate to mouth was just too great for me to await the next mouthful of pizza).
Marc Vetri is known most for his exquisite pasta dishes. In fact, many notable chefs in the industry regard his restaurants as some of the best pasta spots in North America. While most of his more advanced pasta recipes are to be found in his previous book (this is, after all, called Rustic Italian Food), classic Italian dishes like Bucatini Alla Matriciana and Cacio e Pepe are given their dues in authentic, true-to-the-source methods. While some may find pasta from scratch intimidating, the sauces and accompaniments themselves take almost no time at all to prepare, and taste almost as good on store-bought dried pasta.
Charcuterie has become somewhat of a “thing” these days. It seems everyone and their mother is hanging a fat, cured salumi in their basement, cellar or attic. Not to say that I’m not happy to see people undertaking such ambitious projects on their own; in fact, I’m extremely impressed when I hear of some home-rigged curing rooms that involve all kinds of gadgets from dehumidifiers to wet towels and burning candles. In an effort to inspire the skeptical and unsure in favor of the home-cured arts, Chef Vetri includes a stunning and expansive chapter on classic Italian salumeria techniques and recipes. From the common pancetta and soppressata to the more complex lamb mortadella, Vetri demonstrates simple and comprehensive recipes along with important tips on sanitation, sausage press technique and other bits of advice that aim to make your journey from ground pork to salumi nirvana as stress-free as possible. Naturally, a short chapter on pickles follows thereafter, including the aforementioned mostarda recipe (absolutely worth the time investment; make a huge batch and jar it or give it away to friends!). Vetri provides the recipes for all the necessary components to create a bangin’ charcuterie board to impress friends and family, or maybe just to nosh on with a glass of wine (he provides wine pairings too!).
Pick up Chef Vetri’s latest book if you were a fan of his first book Il Viaggio di Vetri, and also if you’re in the market for a solid, authentic Italian cookbook that functions both as a simple, everyday cookbook as well as something you can whip out for the occasional dinner party. Vetri’s reputation and prowess as one of the best Italian chefs in North America is easily justified through his words of wisdom and technique. Italian food is synonymous with love and family and it’s easy to see how this cuisine developed that reputation through the recipes, stories and tips that compile this wonderful addition to the ever-growing catalogue of excellent Italian cookbooks.
Rustic Italian Food by Marc Vetri with David Joachim
Hardcover, 304pp, $40
Reviewed by Kevin Jeung