Friday, March 26, 2010

Marcella Hazan

I recently read Marcella Hazan's autobiography, Amarcord. I confess that I didn't love it. I'm not sure why not, but somehow the narrative energy was less than I have found in a number of other similar biographies, notably Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice and Julia's My Years in Paris. That being said, however, reading this book reminded me of the enormous debt we all have to Marcella for revamping the way we think of Italian food.

The emphasis on regionalism, simplicity and quality of ingredients now seems obvious, but it was not always so. Her user-friendly and near-foolproof books, particularly
The Classic Italian Cookbook and More Classics of Italian Cooking, contributed significantly to Americans' sophistication in matters of Italian food. Those volumes, together with her activities outside of the book world (chronicled in Amarcord) to the demand for and now availability of a myriad of Italian ingredients, like extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, dried and fresh porcini, sun-dried tomatoes, that enable us to achieve very authentic results. \

Whenever people discuss the most important cookbooks on their shelves - the ones they could not live without - Marcella's initial works are mentioned. When my wife and I bought an apartment in Paris, I immediately bought Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which incorporates (and slightly expands) her first two volumes, to provide a trove of useful recipes that are in some ways easier to achieve in France than in NY due to the availability of ingredients. Marcella's later books, Marcella Cucina and Marcella's Italian Kitchen, are also wonderful and complete her amazing culinary legacy.

Later writers, starting with a more educated public, have continued the tradition started by Marcella, exposing Americans to Italian specialties that are within the competence of amateur cooks and yet give us access to unfamiliar regions of Italy where, through food at least, an older way of life survives. My favorite of these is Lidia Bastianich (see my post "Tutti a Tavola with Lidia Bastianich"), but mention must be made of Mario Batali and of Marcella's son Giuliano Hazan.

So, thank you Marcella, for inviting us into your Italian kitchen.

Bobby Jay

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