In the short time I have been writing cookbook reviews I have been very lucky. After a quick read, and experimenting with a few recipes, I have found that most reviews almost write themselves. Unfortunately, that all ended when I received a copy of "A Taste of the Marche" to review almost 8 months ago. Never have I agonized over a review to such an extent, nor have I ever had to review a book that left me with such mixed feelings.
I have to be honest up front, I don't want to like this book, yet with all I dislike about it, I find lots to rejoice in also. With such mixed emotions it's hard to write a review. Do I give it a bad review based on all I dislike about the book, or do I overlook those faults and focus just on the positives? In the end I've decided to give you, the reader, it all and allow you to make your own decision about whether this is the book for you or not.
Let's start with what I don't like about this book. "A Taste of the Marche" was compiled by the "Cuochi di Marca," a consortium of high end restaurants in the Marche region of Italy, and helped by both the Regional Council and Regional Board of the Marche. It is in all of their best interests to make the Marche sound as wonderful as possible, and I can't blame them for that, but the rhetoric goes way too far. Instead of accurately conveying the pride and joy they feel in their homeland many of the passages, in the book, come across as pompous and self-aggrandizing. I would applaud all the Marche has given to the culinary world, but it is hard to when you feel they are looking down their noses at you while telling you of all their wonderful achievements.
This same pompous attitude carries over into the recipes also. Remember, this is a compilation of recipes from high-end restaurants, and it shows. This is no beginner's cookbook, or even a novice's cookbook. This is for the serious cook or chef. "A Taste of the Marche" makes the assumption that you really know what you are doing. For example many recipes call for Baccala. Do you know what Baccala is? It is salt cod, and it needs to be soaked for anywhere from 24-48 hours in numerous changes of water or milk to soften it and remove excess salt. This book assumes you know that, along with how to bone out a rabbit, the fundamentals of pasta making, and many other things. While this, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad, when coupled with the fact that many of the recipes contain ingredients that are all but impossible to find outside of the largest metropolitan areas, the book starts to come across as very elitist.
And herein lies my dilemma. While I condemn this elitist attitude, I also find myself begrudgingly admiring it. They haven't dumbed down their recipes nor have they sacrificed the integrity of their dishes just so anyone can make it at home. You will find recipes here that you can't make as they are written, as there is no substitutions for some of the items and there are some recipes that will require you track down hard to find items or get creative in substituting items. I find myself admiring that attitude that says "We are proud of what we do and we aren't going to sacrifice it just to make the recipes easy for you to make." It is also refreshing to see a book on Italian food that forgoes the standard traditional fare and dares to show people what the new generations of chefs are creating. It is a wonderful fusion of "tried and true" classics and of modern sensibilities and techniques. Guaranteed, you haven't seen, or tasted, food like this before, yet it still manages to evoke images of the Italian countryside.
So what is my final opinion of "A Taste of the Marche?" First off, if you are anything but a well experienced cook, forget this book. It is way over your head. Also if you are looking for traditional Italian fare, forget it. Luckily, the bookshelves, in bookstores, are full of Italian cookbooks if you fall into 1 of these 2 groups of people. Secondly, skip all the text. Sure it gives you a wonderful little history of the Marche but in such an over-the-top pompous attitude, it's not worth it. But if you are a serious cook, ready for a challenge, and are dying to see a more modern take on the food coming out of Italy, then this book is most definitely for you.
Sole in Dry Vermouth Sauce