Her manner was occasionally gruff, her recipes always impeccable. But what I will always remember about Marcella Hazan was her soulfulness.
The Italian cooking author and teacher died Sunday at age 89. A decade ago, I interviewed her at her home in Longboat Key, Fla. I had heard that she did not suffer fools gladly, and had no use for foolish questions. What I learned that day with her was that she had no use for artifice.
During two-plus hours at her seaside condo, Hazan was an open book, about her life and her craft, about matters large and small. Her abiding amore for husband Victor and fierce pride in son Giuliani, her unwavering belief that with Italian cooking, simple is always better, were matched by her delight when she learned that we both carried laminated cards identifying us as Tennessee Squires, owners of a square inch of land on the Jack Daniel’s property.
Hazan’s kitchen was impeccably organized, including a pull-out shelf where she made pasta in the wee hours when she was having trouble sleeping. Her homemade pasta and other recipes in the indispensable “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” — which had a similar impact among home cooks as Julia Child’s French cooking books three decades earlier — usually have fewer than 10 ingredients. But the flavors and textures were as layered as the woman herself.
She emphasized technique over exact measures of ingredients (“I like to say ‘more or less’ this amount”), eschewed the overuse of garlic at Italian-American restaurants, and stressed that all the cooking of her homeland was regional, not national.
And she always placed food in the context of both Italian culture and the home. “There’s a great reward in cooking for a loved one and for family,” she told me. “It’s very natural.”
The same could be said for this strong-willed but soft-hearted woman. □
Recipes from the kitchen of Marcella Hazan, T4