Mastering Pasta-The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto, by Marc Vetri
People have debated and argued about the origins of pasta for years. It may have been invented in China (as some claim), but very few would argue that the Italians aren’t the ones who really own it. In his book “Mastering Pasta”, Marc Vetri has written a definitive reference to the art and science of pasta. Classically trained in Bergamo, Italy and founder of Philadelphia’s Vetri Family of Restaurants, Marc Vetri is clearly suited for the job.
If you are looking for a sauce to put on some pasta you picked up at the store this is not the book for you. If you want to know why tipo 00 flour from Italy is going to give you different results than all-purpose flour, then you’re in luck. The second chapter of the book is all about flour. I was a bit concerned that this was more information than I needed to know, and I was beginning to feel a bit intimidated (despite how interesting it was to read). Fortunately, like everyone else, I thumbed through the entire book first. After browsing through the recipes, I was willing to take all the time I needed to create the beautiful dishes that seemed to jump out of the book as I turned each page. As I read along I realized that making pasta is much easier than you might expect and very approachable for any level of cook. The recipes in the book are perfect examples of what a dish of pasta should be. It should be flavorful on its own with a texture that is a delight to bite into and seasoned to accentuate the pasta, not overpower it. All too often in America the pasta is reduced to a flavorless vehicle for a cacophony of flavors. Often heavy and over sauced, American pasta may be familiar and satisfying but can fail to live up to its potential.
I love a cookbook that is more than a collection of recipes, and that is where “Mastering Pasta” excels. It also serves as a reference book. As such, you can explore the topic as in depth or as lightly as you desire. All types of various pastas are explored here: baked sheet pastas, stuffed, extruded, formed pasta, and flavored pasta. The recipes are well written and easy to understand, and there is plenty of information on technique. There is also a welcome chapter on risotto. I was also excited to see a chapter dedicated to gnocchi, one of my all time favorites. I had made pasta before but never tried to make gnocchi. A quote from the book summed up my trepidation attempting to make gnocchi:
“No matter what type of gnocchi you make, texture and flavor are still the two most important things to consider when making them. Not enough flour and you’ll create soup when the dumplings go into the water. Too much flour or too much kneading and you’ll make the ever popular “asshole stoppers,” as they were lovingly called years ago in South Philly. But with the right amount of flour, maybe a little egg, and a gentle touch, gnocchi can taste like tender puffs of flavor that seem to float from the fork to your mouth.”
The reason I have avoided making them is that I was afraid they would not be the light tender pillows that seemingly float up from the plate, but the other kind that you can imagine haunting you later (the latter kind described above). However, after reading the chapter on gnocchi, I am now ready and eager to give it a try. That is the kind of inspiration I love and appreciate in a cookbook the most!
Nothing gets me more excited about a new cookbook than discovering something new (to me anyhow) and in this case it was ‘testarolo’. The picture alone stopped me in my tracks for a recipe for ‘Testarolo with Pistachio Pesto’. Testarolo is a form of pasta that starts out as a batter that is then cooked on a hot skillet like a crepe. Like a pancake, it is cooked crisp and browned, and is then cut into diamond shapes and put briefly into the water before being tossed with a sauce (the sauce here was a pistachio pesto). It is served with a garnish of goat cheese and orange zest. The dish is as spectacularly visual as it is delicious.
Mastering pasta is full of classic pasta dishes anyone should be familiar with like ‘Tagliatelle with Traditional Bolognese’, ‘Risotto all Milanese’, and ‘Ricotta Ravioli’ as well on many other fresh takes on traditional dishes: dishes like ‘Fig and Onion Caramelle with Gorgonzola Dolce Fonduta’ and ‘Linguine with Peekytoe Crab and Horseradish’ to name a few. A chapter on stocks, sauces, and the basics rounds this ‘must have’ cookbook for any pasta devotee. I highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to get started.
“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”