Slow-cooked meats, homemade breads, flavorful pastas...these are the traditional comfort-food classics that Italians have been roasting, baking, curing, and making in their own kitchens for generations--dishes that people actually want to cook and eat. In Rustic Italian Food, acclaimed Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri celebrates the handcrafted cuisine of Italy, advocating a hands-on, back-to-the-basics approach to cooking. Home cooks of every skill level will revel in the 120 recipes, such as sweet Fig and Chestnut Bread, rich Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi, savory Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder, and fragrant Apple Fritters. Rustic Italian Food is also an education in kitchen fundamentals, with detailed, step-by-step instructions for making terrines, dry-cured salami, and cooked sausage; a thorough guide to bread and pasta making; and a primer on classic Italian preserves and sauces. Much more than just a collection of recipes, in this book Marc Vetri connects us directly to the essence of Italian food.
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Ten Speed Press
November 01, 2011
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from Rustic Italian Food by Marc Vetri
I REALLY LIKE TO COOK. I don't say that as a joke--I really, really enjoy cooking. Sniffing out the best ingredients, dreaming up a dish, and then handcrafting something delicious brings me immense satisfaction. That idea might seem odd in the technological age of modern cuisine. Why bother cooking by hand? Why judge doneness with your eyes when you can just put something in an oven, press a button, and take it out when the buzzer goes off? It will be cooked perfectly. You can vacuum-seal a veal medallion in plastic, label it, put the bag in a water bath at a prescribed temperature for a prescribed time, then take it out, cut it open, and serve it. Some people think that this kind of scientific advancement is a godsend. But not me. If I wanted to be a file clerk, I would work at an accounting firm. I don't enjoy filing. I enjoy cooking. I like to touch and smell fresh herbs, to roll them between my fingertips and breathe in their tempting aromas. I like to feel the supple skin on a fresh pear and taste the tannic bite of young artichokes. I want to understand where my food comes from--the earth, the climate, and the place where it was grown. Touching, knowing, and understanding give me more respect for the ingredients I'm working with and help me honor those foods in the kitchen. The fewer things between me and the food, the better. Don't get me wrong--knowing the science of food can certainly make you a better cook. But how you use that knowledge makes all the difference between modern cuisine and rustic preparations. Some chefs use their knowledge to manipulate our medium--food--to its furthest reaches, constructing or deconstructing elaborate dishes with multiple components. Other chefs use food knowledge to expertly pair two ingredients together in a simple preparation like a musician who can move you from your seat with two minimal notes. That musician may have a deep understanding of musical theory but chooses to display his or her knowledge with an uncomplicated melody. I love knowing how and why things happen in cooking, but I'll take Miles Davis over Wynton Marsalis any day of the week.
This kind of simple, hands-on cooking is the core of Italian cuisine. In the kitchen, my greatest aspiration is to take as few ingredients as possible, cook them perfectly, and make them sing. I try to bring this kind of simplicity to all of my tables--at home and in my restaurants. It's what I teach the cooks who come to work with me, and what I set out to share in this book.
I'm not alone in this straightforward approach. Thomas Keller, the prince of precise French cooking, recently told reporters that a chicken tastes best when simply roasted in the traditional manner: "Clean the chicken, season it inside and out, rub it with butter, truss it and roast it at 425 degrees," says Keller. I couldn't agree more. Even Alain Ducasse, one of the most decorated chefs in the world, recently simplified the menu at his flagship Plaza Athen�e restaurant in Paris. "We've never been about bling-bling," he told an international news agency, "but now we are definitively going to get back to essentials. Cuisine has become too complicated--this is about subject, verb, adjective: duck, turnips, sauce."
For many young cooks, the simple basics no longer hold their interest. Some very talented chefs have come to work with me over the years, and I am still amazed at how many of them don't know rudimentary food preparations like butchering animals and making stock. For me, it is an art to make a piece of cured salami with only three ingredients: pork, fat, and salt. Bread, one of the world's most important foods and most beautiful art forms, can be crafted from only flour, water, salt, and yeast. Yet these fundamental procedures are foreign to many cooks. It's not because making bread is hard. It's because few people take the time to show others how simple it is to make.
Think of pickles, jams, and preserves. Cooks have been preserving seasonal fruits and vegetables for thousands of years. Simple tarts and sweets have been put on Italian family tables for more years than any of us has been alive. Thankfully, this kind of hands-on food is making a big comeback these days. Highly technological cuisine may be fascinating, but food made by hand is what people are really excited about. American restaurants proudly serve house-cured meats and house-made breads. Every year, thousands more people turn to home canning, home brewing, home butchering, and making things like homemade pickles and home-cured bacon to save money and enjoy the satisfaction of doing things themselves.
You could chalk up the handcrafted food movement to tough economic times, but I think our interest in rustic food goes deeper. Breads, preserves, pies, roasted meats . . . these are the foods that cooks--especially Italian cooks--have been inspired by for centuries. These are the approachable foods that people everywhere feel comfortable preparing and eating. This is the cooking that I teach in Rustic Italian Food.