Marcella Hazan was born on this day, April 15, in 1924 in the village of Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna. She earned a doctorate in natural sciences and biology from the University of Ferrara. In 1955 she married Victor Hazan, an Italian-born, New York-raised Sephardic Jew, who subsequently gained fame as a wine writer. The couple moved to New York City a few months later and Marcella was a newlywed who did not speak English, transplanted to a country whose knowledge of her native cuisine was not much more than spaghetti covered with what, to her, tasted like overly spiced ketchup. The culture shock was substantial. She found canned peas and hamburgers appalling and for coffee – she described it, “as tasting no better than the water we used to wash out the coffee pot at home”.
Hazan had never cooked before her marriage. As she recounted in the introduction to her 1997 book, Marcella Cucina, “… there I was, having to feed a young, hard-working husband who could deal cheerfully with most of life’s ups and downs, but not with an indifferent meal. In Italy, I would not have wasted time thinking about it. My mother cooked, my father cooked, both my grandmothers cooked, even the farm girls who came in to clean could cook. In the kitchen of my New York apartment there was no one.” She began by using cookbooks from Italy, especially Ada Boni’s cookbook, The Talisman Italian Cookbook, – also my first Italian cookbook. Soon after she realised that she had an exceptionally clear memory of the flavors she had tasted at home and found it easy to reproduce them in her kitchen. “Eventually I learned that some of the methods I adopted were idiosyncratically my own,” she recalled, “but for most of them I found corroboration in the practices of traditional Italian cooks.”
In October 1969 she began teaching Italian cooking classes that were as much about Italian culture and history as about food. She taught students that Italian cooking was really regional cooking, from the handmade noodles and meat sauce of Bologna to the fish and risotto of Venice to the linguine and clams of Naples.
Her recipes tended to use only ingredients that would actually be used in Italian kitchens (with some concessions for ingredients that are not readily available outside Italy). Mrs. Hazan embraced simplicity, precision and balance in her cooking. She emphasised careful attention to detail. In her third book, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, Hazan laid out her “Elementary Rules” with some 22 commandments. Among them are:
- Use no Parmesan that is not Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Never buy grated cheese of any kind; grate cheese fresh when ready to use.
- Do not overcook pasta. Do not pre-cook pasta.
- Unless you are on a medically prescribed diet, do not shrink from using what salt is necessary to draw out the flavor of food.
- Dress salads with no other oil than olive.
- Do not turn heavy cream into a warm bath for pasta or for anything else. Reduce it, reduce it, reduce it.
- Choose vegetables that are in season and plan the entire meal around them.
- Soak vegetables in cold water for half an hour before cooking to remove all trace of grit. Cook them until they are tender, but not mushy, so that they have a rich flavor. Cooking brings out the taste. If you cook vegetables too little because you want them crunchy, they all have one thing in common: They taste like grass.
- When sautéing onions, put them in a cold pan with oil and heat them gently; this will make them release their flavor gradually and give them a mellower taste than starting them in a hot pan.
- Although some types of pasta, like tagliatelle, are best made freshly at home, others, like spaghetti, should be bought dried. Pasta should be matched carefully to the sauce.
- Olive oil isn’t always the best choice for frying; in delicately flavored dishes, a combination of butter and vegetable oil should be used.
- Garlic presses should be avoided at all costs.
Bibliography of Marcella’s books:
- The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating (1973)
- More Classic Italian Cooking (1978)
- Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986)
- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)
- Marcella Cucina (1997)
- Marcella Says: Italian Cooking Wisdom from the Legendary Teacher’s Master Classes With 120 of Her Irresistible New Recipes (2004)
- Amarcord: Marcella Remembers (Gotham Books, 2008)
In her honor, the International Culinary Center (ICC)—the only school at which Marcella taught—is launching a scholarship in her name, sending worthy aspiring chefs to the seven-month Italian Culinary Experience, a program that begins at ICC’s campus in New York or California, then continues in Marcella’s home province of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, including staging (apprenticeships) in top restaurants in Italy. To access information and the application, click on the link below.
Recipes for some of Marcella Hazan’s pastas.
Eggplant, Tomato and Mozzarella Pasta
(From Marcella Says)
- 1 medium eggplant or 2 small eggplants
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 large can San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 1/4 lb mozzarella, cut into thin strips
- 1 lb short tube pasta, such as rigatoni or penne
- 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
- Torn basil leaves
Boil 4 quarts of salted water in a large pot.
Remove the tops of the eggplant and cut into 1-inch dice.
Heat a 10-inch saute pan and add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the eggplant. Cook about a minute, turning the eggplant frequently. Add tomatoes and chili flakes. Turn heat to low and simmer until the oil floats to the top of the sauce. Season with salt and remove from the heat.
Drop pasta into boiling water. When the pasta is nearly done, turn the heat down on the sauce and add the mozzarella, stirring until it dissolves into the sauce.
When the pasta is done, drain and transfer into a large warm bowl. Pour sauce over. Add pecorino cheese and torn basil leaves. Toss and serve at once.
Pasta with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Sauce
(From Marcella Cucina)
Serve 4 to 6.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 ounces pancetta, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
- 1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut into very fine dice
- Coarse salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with juices.
- 1 pound penne, ziti or rigatoni
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Put the oil and onion in a large skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft.
Add the lamb and cook until browned, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, cover and return to a boil.
Add the pasta to the pot and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Cover and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until it is al dente.
Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the 1/3 cup of grated cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.
Pasta With Fresh Clams
(From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
- 18 littleneck clams
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced paper-thin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh hot red pepper or crushed dried red pepper to taste
- 1 ripe plum tomato, seeded, diced and drained
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 pound spaghettini or spaghetti
- Several basil leaves, torn up.
Wash and scrub the clams, dunking them in several changes of fresh water until there are no traces of sand. Discard any that remain open when handled. Place them in a dry skillet in one layer, cover the skillet and turn the heat to high. Cook, checking and turning occasionally to remove each clam as it opens; the total cooking time will be about 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat. Remove each clam from its shell and swish it in the cooking liquid to remove any remaining sand. Cut the clams into two or three pieces each, then put them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover and set aside. Pass the cooking liquid through a strainer lined with paper towels or cheesecloth and set aside.
Place the remaining oil and the garlic in a skillet large enough to hold the pasta later and turn the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring, for a few seconds, then add parsley and chili pepper. Stir once or twice, then add tomato. Cook for a minute, stirring, then add the wine. Cook for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, set a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Cook the pasta until it is very firm to the bite, just short of being fully cooked (it should be so firm that you would not yet want to eat it). Drain it, turn the heat to high under the skillet and add the pasta to the skillet, along with the filtered clam juice. Cook, tossing and turning the pasta, until the juice has evaporated. The pasta should now be perfectly cooked; if it is a little underdone, add some water and continue to cook for another minute.
Add the cut-up clams with their oil and the basil leaves; toss two or three times, then serve.
Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti Carbonara
(From Essentials of Italian Cooking)
- 1/2 pound cubed pancetta or slab bacon
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated romano cheese
- 1/2 freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 1/4 pound spaghetti
Mash the garlic with a fork and saute in the olive oil in a pan on medium heat while you cook the spaghetti. Saute until the garlic becomes a deep gold color, then remove and discard it.
Put the onion and cubed pancetta or bacon in the pan and cook until onions are golden and the pancetta is crisp at the edges. Add the wine and let it bubble for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat.
Break the eggs into a serving bowl in which you will toss the pasta. The serving bowl can be warmed in the oven, if it is oven proof. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, add the cheeses, a liberal grinding of pepper and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.
Add cooked drained spaghetti to the bowl and toss rapidly, coating the strands well. Briefly reheat the onion and pancetta over high heat. Turn out the contents of the pan into the pasta bowl and toss thoroughly once more. Serve immediately.
Penne with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce
(From The Classic Italian Cookbook)
- 1 lb penne
- 2 lb zucchini
- 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- One bunch of basil, chopped finely
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Set a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta al dente.
Meanwhile, slice zucchini in thin strips.
Heat butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and stir. Before garlic starts to brown, add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and starting to brown a bit.
Add cream. Season with salt and pepper. Let cook on medium-low heat until thickened a bit and let simmer until the pasta is done.
Just before mixing with the pasta, stir basil into the sauce and turn off the heat. Toss with pasta and parmesan cheese.
- Marcella Hazan 1924 – 2013 (ecookbooks.typepad.com)