Remembering Cookbook Author Marcella Hazan

by sockii

Marcella Hazan was loved worldwide for her Italian cookbooks, and all that she did for bringing authentic Italian food to our home kitchens.

I was deeply shocked and saddened to read of the passing of cookbook author Marcella Hazan two years; she died on September 29, 2013. Although Mrs. Hazan had not published a new book since 2008 and had mostly spent her last few years living quietly out of the spotlight, it felt as though she was always there as a presence in my own kitchen, constantly revealing and teaching me new things about Italian cooking.

Indeed, Marcella Hazan is a legend in the home-cooking world, an author credited with bringing true and authentic Italian cooking to American chefs as never before. Marcella's Italian food is not the "spaghetti and meatballs", "red gravy"-style many of us grew up knowing and eating and calling Italian (but is really Italian-American cuisine). Marcella was a purist, whose recipes only reflect traditional methods and ingredients as would be found in an authentic Italian kitchen. With methodical detail—and sometimes a brusque, disdainful attitude toward "shortcuts" like using pasta machines or a garlic press—she would carefully describe the fussy details of, for instance, properly washing and cleaning clams before preparing white clam sauce, trimming an artichoke, or salting and drying an eggplant before frying. She spoke up for using seasonal, local ingredients long before "farm-to-table" became a catch phrase of the cooking industry; she taught many of us how to respect and find beauty in the simple, pure flavors that define real Italian cooking.

Eggplant parmesanEggplant parmesan - as I learned to make it from Marcella's cookbooks.Marcella Hazan was a huge influence on me as a home cook from even an early age. I remember my grandmother had a well-worn copy of Marcella's (now long out-of-print) second cookbook, More Classic Italian Cooking. I helped my grandmother prepare many of those recipes and they were some of our favorite family meals, especially on the weekends when we had the time to prepare more complicated and lengthy dishes like Ossobuchi in bianco (braised veal shanks) or Carciofi e patate passati al forno (gratin of artichokes and potatoes). Thanks to Marcella—and my grandmother—I learned as a teenager how to make classic Italian dishes like Veal scaloppineCanestrelli Trifolati (Sauteed scallops with garlic and parsley) and even, as gruesome as it may sound, Spaghetti al sugo di pesce (spaghetti with fish-head sauce).

Today, there is still not a week that goes by where I don't cook at least a few dishes from one of Marcella's cookbooks. I'm always revisiting old favorites or learning new things to cook from her, like how to prepare a wine-braised breast of veal or a stuffed beef braciole. Whenever I want to cook something Italian, I always reach for her books first before looking up any alternative preparations or recipes.

Marcella's Italian Kitchen is perhaps my favorite of her cookbooks, not just for the recipes but for her stories and introductions to each dish. She talks of regional tradition and of the "Elementary Rules" of "The Taste of Italian Cooking" ("Use herbs and spices sparingly. Think of them as a halo, not a club.") One of my favorite recipes from this book is the Costolette di Vitello alla Guido Reni: a complex-sounding dish of grilled veal chops stuffed with vegetables and cheese, which is actually quite simple to prepare and sure to stun any dinner guest with their apparent difficulty. But with Marcella guiding you, no recipe is out of reach for the home cook.

Thank you, Marcella, for all you have taught me and all the inspiration you have brought to my kitchen and table!

Your favorite by Marcella Hazan

Which is your favorite Marcella Hazan cookbook?

Mark Bittman Interviews Marcella Hazan

More About Marcella Hazan...

Marcella's story is actually quite unique. Born in 1924, in the village of Cesenatic in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, she was not a "cook by birth" but one who learned cooking after her marriage in 1955 to Victor Hazan. Before then she had studied and earned a doctorate degree in biology and natural sciences. (I would wager that her scientific studies influenced her precise, methodical approach to cooking and writing recipes!) She and her husband moved from Italy to New York, where she began trying to replicate the flavors she remembered of her home country in the New World.

She began to offer cooking classes and founded a cooking school in New York in 1969: The School of Classic Italian Cooking. Four years later her first cookbook was published, The Classic Italian Cookbook, and her name and accolades would begin to grow. Victor and Marcella had a second home in Venice, often featured in the photographs in her later cookbooks (which also featured a strong representation of Venetian cuisine as well.)

Marcella retired from her cooking school in 1998 and moved with Victor to Florida, where they remained until her passing. There were many heartfelt tributes to her published soon after, showing just how much her work and writing influenced so many. Just a few such articles are linked below, where you can find out more about this incredible woman, her life and her work:

Updated: 05/28/2015, sockii
 
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