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Marcella Hazan, 1924-2013

Marcella Hazan is my hero.DSC_0006 She showed me how to cook Italian, do it sensibly and trust your tastebuds.

I got to know her just a little. We spoke a couple times many years ago. She was living in Florida with her husband Victor. I was writing a food/cooking column for the Star called “Kitchen Patrol.” In those days, the paper had a marvelous Wednesday food section edited by Kristen Cook. I wrote the piece that appears below and sent it to Marcella. She said it gave her a boost because she was working on a new project (Amacord), and it was difficult.

The New York Times put her obituary on Page One this morning, exactly where it belonged. Her influence was enormous. Unlike many cookbook writers who seem to have reinvented the assembly line, Hazan wrote just five books over more than 40 years.  It is a marvelous legacy.

Fan of Italian food savors Marcella ‘s cookbooks

The Arizona Daily Star – Wednesday, April 7, 2004

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Author: Steve Auslander

The problem with cookbooks is that they are written mostly by cooks.DSCF2467

It may be a safe assumption that cooks can cook, but it isn’t necessarily true that cooks can write. Which is to say coherently. Or cogently. It is for this reason that not all cookbooks are – how to put this delicately? – palatable. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that not all cooks have a lot to say. Or that what they have to say is helpful.

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I am grateful for a public library that allows me to peruse a cookbook before I decide to acquire it. I also have been known to spend a couple of hours in a Barnes & Noble, reading cookbooks and buying nothing but a roll and a cup of Joe.*

Finding a really good cookbook is by no means commonplace. I do not have many books and do not collect books as much as I collect cookbook writers. My favorite is Marcella Hazan . Her five books are lucid, informative, entertaining and, above all, helpful.

It helps that I adore Italian food. Hazan was born in Cesenatico, a small town on the Adriatic coast in the province of Emilia-Romagna.

I spoke with her from her home in Longboat Key, Fla., which is on the Gulf Coast near Sarasota. She said she’s working on a sixth book. It takes about five years for her to write a book, which I suspect is one key to her enormous success. This book will contain about 100 recipes (her other books have many more). It will be based on her teaching courses, she said. Her new book is tentatively titled ” Marcella Says,” and it is scheduled to appear in October.

Hazan writes in Italian. Her husband, Victor, is her translator and a very good one. He manages, Hazan said, to retain her voice even in English. He is an authority on Italian wine and has written a book, “Italian Wine.” Her son Giuliano Hazan has written cookbooks as well.

Hazan wrote these books while she lived in Italy – mostly in Venice. She tested recipes there and then once again in New York City, using American ingredients.

In her last book, ” Marcella Cucina” ( Marcella Cooks, 1997), she used a quote from Richard Strauss, who once told an orchestra: “Gentlemen, you are playing all the notes perfectly, but please, let me hear some music.” Hazan says that when she eats meals prepared by “highly trained chefs, food that is ingeniously contrived, elaborately described in the menu, and eye-catchingly presented, that virtually nothing registers on my palate.” All notes, no music.

In ” Marcella ‘s Italian Kitchen” (1986), she sets out some rules. One I particularly liked: “Do not esteem so-called fresh pasta more than the dry, factory-made variety.”

I like this statement because I have difficulty with snooty cooks who look down their noses at plebeians like me who can’t take the time to make fresh.

Hazan ‘s philosophy combines passion, clarity and sincerity. The passion, she says, embodies the sensual nature of the cook. Clarity is to allow the ingredients to speak for themselves. Sincerity is, Hazan says, “speaking with your own true voice.” She is right when she says cooking “is a far more self-centered act than has been generally admitted. It is we who must, first and last, be satisfied with how we cook. The applause that may greet us is helpful encouragement, but it will ring hollow if it does not resonate within us.”

*The origin of this expression has to do with Josephus Daniels, who was editor and publisher and the owner of the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer. Daniels served as secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration from 1913 to 1921. One of the reforms he imposed was to ban alcohol consumption aboard Navy ships, which in the British naval system was a long-standing tradition. It was thus, legend has it, that stewards would ask naval personnel if they would like a cup of Joe in lieu of grog.

 

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