Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri and David Joachim
As in most modern cookbooks, exquisite photographs of sensuous-looking food are sprinkled throughout Mastering Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2015). Unlike many of the slick and pretty tomes on the market, however, Marc Vetri’s new cookbook infuses you with the confidence that you might actually be able to recreate those dishes.
Vetri recently started teaching at Drexel University, and the best of his professorial skills come across in this text, which was written with longtime co-author David Joachim. Far from didactic, the prose that starts each chapter leads you on an exploratory journey through the multi-layered world of pasta.
The first several chapters talk solely about technique, before latter chapters provide a plethora of distinct instructions for a huge variety of preparations that have already won acclaim at Vetri’s restaurants. Measurements are helpfully given in both Imperial units (more common) and metric weights (more precise).
In creating the backstory for these dishes, tradition is given equal weight to science. During his research for the book, Vetri learned as much from watching the weathered hands of cooks in Italy twist up no-recipe dough as he did from the laboratories at the Washington State University, where he traveled to understand the differences between ancient and modern wheats (and their attendant relationship to gluten sensitivity). He also enlisted Nathan Myhrvold, the technology-minded wizard behind Modernist Cuisine, to test the molecular structures that make dried pastas different from one another.
The book leaves you suspended between a world of dogma—certain types of noodles go with certain sauces, just because—and willingness to flout the rules (seafood and cheese is one of Vetri’s favorite combinations). And that’s how it should be, because in the end, there is no concrete answer. If life is a combination of magic and pasta, the converse is also true: pasta is a combination of magic and life.