Marcella Hazan, the foremost authority on traditional Italian cuisine, recently passed away on September 29, 2013, in Longboat Key, Florida. When she came to St. Louis in February, 1997, for the Art Museum’s “Italian Celebration,” I’d never heard of her. But Daughter D who worked at the museum insisted I needed to see Marcella in action. And D usually knows best. So, I took her advice and found myself among those fortunate enough to be sitting in the filled-to-capacity auditorium, watching Marcella demonstrate the proper way to make … yikes, I can’t remember what she demonstrated! But what I do remember is the overhead mirror and strategically stationed TV screens that captured her every movement. And her lovely Italian accent and the no-nonsense manner in which she took command of the stage. And how the audience of mostly females sat mesmerized by her every word. And I did buy her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
After that day at the Art Museum, Marcella Hazan became my go-to authority on Italian cooking in the Italian way—which may take longer than necessary but always uses the appropriate ingredients, proportions, and techniques passed down from generation to generation. Which is not necessarily the way I do things in my cucina/kitchen, but that’s what I like about my practical American side, the Type-A side that’s always looking for shortcuts.
Nevertheless, prominently displayed on my cookbook shelves are three of Marcella Hazan’s highly regarded books:
Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, which I happened on one day at TJ Maxx (I think)
Marcella Cucina, which has beautiful colored photos and pages with Marcella’s hand-written notes
And, of course, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking I purchased that memorable day fifteen years ago.
And, unlike my usual preference for only looking at cookbooks and never following the recipes within, I do have three recipes from Marcella’s Essentials cookbook that I use at least once a year:
Pork loin braised in milk—slow and tedious but well worth the effort.
Diplomatic—a chocolate dessert with rum and coffee that Hubby D and I often use as our base for tiramisu.
Sweet potato filling for ravioli—a dish half of my family loves and the other half … yes, hates, but what do they know.
Several days ago on ABC’s, The Chew observed Columbus Day by featuring a variety of Italian dishes. In reminiscing about his first encounter with Marcella Hazan, Mario Batali said she had sent a letter in which she reprimanded him for using a sauté pan instead of a sauce pan to make risotto. Really? A sauce pan? Not in my cucina, not in my mother’s cucina. My mother taught me to make risotto in a sauté pan because that’s how her mother made hers and until recently that how I always made mine. That is, until I discovered my non-stick wok works even better and now that wok is my go-to risotto pan. Just color me hopeless when it comes to following the advice of those who know way more than I do. I am destined to forever remain a so-so home cook.
Rest in peace, Marcella, and thanks for the memories.