Rustic Italian Cooking
Given my love of all things Piedmont lately, which is most likely just a sad wish to be back in that landscape of transformative light and palate rocking food and wine, it makes sense I’ve gravitated toward Marc Vetri’s cookbook “Rustic Italian Food.” Yet there is a deeper pattern emerging in my cooking experiments, a tendency that’s perhaps made me receptive to Vetri’s tutelage and cuisine, a trail going back to David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. It’s not just their elevation of ordinary (and even at times humble) ingredients that excites for its innovation and satisfies emotionally for still being recognizable as the food of everyday life, in the home and out on the street. Though that is compelling. It’s also not just their approachable styles of instruction, the easy knowledge of two masters of their craft who calm anxieties with the depth of their experience and dedication, but without being condescending jerks about it. Yeah, they cook some stuff, and they’re really really great at it, better than I can hope to be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help me make something extremely tasty at my level if I’m honest about it and just pay attention. Still, there is a connection at the level of the food, a kind of alchemy of salty, sweet, fatty, and fresh, rounded out with a little acidity, which makes everything I’ve tried from these two cookbooks delicious. The methods contribute, too: a lot of braising, pickling, and preserving. They require some time and attention, but the results pay off.
Vetri’s recipe for shaved pork involves brining pork shoulder for two days in the fridge. The brine includes 2 cups hot water, 2 cups cold water, 4 cups ice, 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 garlic clove, the leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, and 10 black peppercorns. After brining, drain and roast uncovered in a preheated 300 °F oven until the internal temperature reaches 145 °F. It’s on the rarer-side for pork, but you finish in a skillet after shaving. Since my pork shoulder was a little bigger than the recipe (3 1/2 pounds), the cooking time was about 1 1/2 hours.
The pork shoulder is sliced thinly, and from experience, I’d say try to slice as thin as possible to avoid chewy pieces. Here is one of those instances where being a homecook has its drawbacks. Alas, no Hobart meat slicer, and my knives will never have a professional’s edges. The pork slices are dressed in 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. The dressed shavings are finished in a skillet until heated through. Vetri’s recipe calls for summer fruit, including plums and cantaloupe, but I was already cantalouped out after recent weeks, so instead used plums, cherries and Beldi olives. The sweet and salty seemed in the spirit of the dish, and with the peppery, fresh arugula, the simple plate came together in a nice and complex way.
There are a lot of great recipes in the book for condiments, as well, such as mostardas, pickles, and jams. Vetri’s quick bell pepper mostarda came in handy, as did his blackberry jam recipe, to make use of the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables here in Texas. The blackberry jam went nicely with Vermont cheddar and southern buttermilk biscuits. I am thankful to my sister-in-law, Heidi, for the jam spoon.