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Marcella Hazan Gave Us the Best of Italian Food

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Marcella Hazan’s gift to American cooks cannot be overstated.

amarcordShe was at the forefront of Italian chefs and cooking instructors who helped us understand that the food of her native country was all about using the finest ingredients in simple yet imaginative ways.  One of her hallmark recipes, a tomato sauce flavored with butter and onion, also showed many homemakers that they could cook up something special in a short time and without a lot of stress. There were no expensive ingredients and you didn’t need a cooking degree. Plus, families were sure to appreciate the fresh flavor the sauce imparted.

That’s what made her celebrated “The Classic Italian Cookbook” a treasure to so many. She reminded us that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. In an age when people have less and less time to cook at home, it’s a message that needs to be stressed more often. You’re likely to read it a lot this week, if you keep up with news that has nothing to do with the government. That’s because Hazan died Sunday at her Longboat Key, Fla., home at age 89.

Her passing has drawn numerous tributes on Twitter from celebrity chefs and home cooks alike. Giada De Laurentiis, for example, said, “Thank you for making the world more delicious. Riposare in pace.” Food blogger Angela Roberts offered her own succinct take: “Cooking from Marcella Hazan’s book is never a disappointment.”

I never got to meet Hazan when I lived in the same area of Florida, but I once assisted her son, Guiliano Hazan, in a cooking class there. He had his own take on Italian cuisine, but he kept it simple, just as she did. In fact, his “The Classic Pasta Cookbook” reflects that approach in a way that both reflected his creativity in the kitchen while his keeping to the tradition that his mother kept alive in her own classes.

classic italianTeaching the culinary traditions of Italy was important to her, even though cooking itself meant little to her in her early years. Yet she came to realize it was a way of explaining her homeland and of clearing up the misconception that everyone in Italy ate massive bowls filled with spaghetti and meatballs for dinner each night. In her memoir, “Amarcord: Marcella Remembers” (Gotham Books), Hazan described how she had to educate class after class in this:

“Why do Italians eat so much? they wanted to know. They don’t, I told them. But what about all those courses? they asked. I explained: We really don’t have that many courses; the appetizer course would be part of a special holiday meal, as would the dessert. At home, seasonal fruit usually takes the place of a baked dessert. We do have two courses, a first and a second, instead of a main course. However, we have two courses not in order to eat more but in order to eat less and more frugally. The pasta course, when it is served Italian style rather than Italian-American style, is quite small and has a minimal amount of sauce. The meat or fish in the course that follows is an expensive ingredient, but if you have a pasta or risotto or soup first, a small portion of it is sufficient. With meat, we always have a tasty vegetable, with fish, a simple salad of greens or tomatoes dressed with vinegar and olive oil. The quantities are small, but it is a more satisfying and a better-balanced way to eat.”

So, do yourself a favor and cook up this tomato sauce in tribute to Marcella Hazan. You’ll be surprised at how easy is — and hopefully it will make you seek out her cookbooks, either those that are sitting on your cookbook rack already or the ones you need to add to your collection.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, or 3 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
5 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re using fresh tomatoes, peel them. Coarsely chop the fresh or the canned tomatoes.

Put a 4- to 5-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion halves, butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat. Crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook. Stir every 10 or 15 minutes. Simmer for 45 minutes or until droplets of fat appear on the surface of the tomatoes. Remove the onion. (You could discard it or use it for another purpose.)

Toss the sauce with about 1 pound of just-boiled pasta and serve it with Parmesan cheese and black pepper, if desired.

Makes  4-6 servings.

From Marcella Hazan



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