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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remembering Marcella Hazan

Reading Mark Bittman's ode to Marcella prompting me to start composing my own version, which is very different from his.  He knew her, for one thing, and I did not.  He is a food professional and while I like to cook and I have been eating my whole life, no one would mistake me for a chef.  So the impact she had on our lives revolves around the food she made, and the way she cooked, but we were at very different places when we discovered her.

Interestingly, it was not at a different time.  The cookbook that had the greatest influence on me was her very first one, 'The Classic Italian Cookbook', which I discovered in the early 1980's (she wrote it in 1973, so I was definitely not ahead of the curve in discovering her, but then I didn't get around to Julia Childs until after that, so I have never been a trend setter (Alice Waters being the exception--I was on to her right away).  Bittman says that the book showed that Italian food could me more than a red sauce on pasta, but the thing that resonated for me is that she made her own pasta, and she showed you, step by step, how you could too.  I was in Providence at the time, which is a town where you can find fresh pasta without any trouble at all, but I was soon to leave there, and have never since lived in a place where you could get excellent fresh pasta.

The other thing I learned from her was that soup wasn't all that complicated.  Her hallmark as a cook is keeping it simple--few ingredients, highlight the flavor of the food rather than making it all fussy, and I have been making great soup for the bulk of my adult life, starting with things I learned from her.  A couple of years ago I bought a second copy of 'The Classic Italian Cookbook'--it wsa out of print of course, so I bought a used version, but my own copy had literally fallen apart, and while I am not opposed to taping things back together, I wanted to be sure I had a useable copy of one of the cookbooks that marked the beginning of my home cooking career.

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