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Remembering Marcella Hazan

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Marcella Hazan, a chef and cookbook author, at her home in Longboat Key, Fla.

Marcella Hazan, a chef and cookbook author, at her home in Longboat Key, Fla. (AP Photo)

Being out of town and out of touch, I just recently learned the sad news that the food world has lost one of its most-loved citizens, Marcella Hazan.

By now, hundreds of cooks, writers, chefs, celebrities and friends have expressed condolences to her family, shared their many memories of Marcella and expressed appreciation for the ways she enriched their time in the kitchen.

She generously shared her knowledge and experience, mentoring and inspiring thousands of cooks and celebrities through her classes and books on Italian cooking.

Among the dozens of awards reflecting that generosity, were a knighthood from Italy for her contributions to the culinary advancements of that country and the 2004 Institute of Culinary Professionals Lifetime Achievement Award, of which she was particularly proud.

I had the privilege of interviewing Marcella in October of 2004 about "Marcella Says," her last cookbook. I had arranged for the interview with some hesitancy, having read that she was outspoken. But soon after my arrival, I was completely at ease as Marcella shared her thoughts about the book, showed me the many ingenious features of her newly re-designed kitchen on Longboat Key and explained her husband, Victor's, role in making her books the valuable references they have become.

She shared anecdotes about her cooking classes, which she recorded and referred to for subsequent classes and cookbooks. She had on tape a class attended by actor/comedian Danny Kaye during which he answered Marcella's home telephone and instead of taking a message, engaged the caller in a comic routine and kept fellow attendees in stitches.
And she talked about her life at 80 on Longboat Key: "While our neighbors were playing golf or bridge, my husband and I would sit at our table overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at midday enjoying meals brimming with flavor." So you can imagine my excitement at being invited to continue the interview over lunch another day. The memories of that lunch in the Hazans' home still make me smile.

As Marcella prepared homemade pasta with a sauce of clams, dried porcini, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms and wine, Victor weighed portions, tasted pasta, heated platters and poured wine. The pasta was followed by fennel and orange salad served in a ceramic dish that Marcella had made at the Longboat Key Art Center. The leisurely and satisfying lunch ended with mascarpone-filled dates, espresso for Victor and me and "Gentleman Jack" for Marcella. Besides the wonderful meal, the memory of the camaraderie and warm hospitality has not dimmed.

MARCELLA SAYS
I guess you could consider Marcella outspoken, but always for the benefit of her many followers:

On olive oil and butter: "An olive oil snob I am not. … I am dismayed by the misguided attitude of those who champion olive oil over butter as though it were a cause. How do they make the sauces for their homemade pasta, I'd like to know, or the bases for most risottos …

"The taste of a dish for which you need olive oil will be as good or as ordinary as the oil you use. A sublime one can lift even modest ingredients to eminent heights of flavor; a dreary oil will pull the best ingredients down to its own level."

On salt: "The flavor of nearly all the ingredients we work with lies largely immobile within them, sluggishly waiting to be drawn out. Cooking clears the way for it to emerge, but the magnet, the driver that gets it moving out where our taste buds can capture it, is salt."

On garlic: "Garlic is the most supportive ingredient you will ever use, but use it to advance flavors not to club them senseless."

On pasta: "In that glorious extravaganza that is Italian pasta cookery, homemade egg pasta and factory-made, boxed semolina pasta have separate roles, but fully equal billing. … Although there exist deplorably ill-conceived machines for extruding spaghetti, maccheroni, and other semolina pasta shapes in your kitchen, that is a product you don't ever want to make at home. Egg pasta, on the other hand, ought never to be made anywhere else."

RECIPES
Using her books, home cooks feel Marcella at their side, mentoring and encouraging them. That will not change as generations of new cooks come to appreciate the accessible joys of Italian cooking and Marcella's celebration of food and family.

Like many of her fans, I will be remembering Marcella by making her simple and popular tomato sauce. I think she would like that.

Here is that recipe. It makes enough to lightly coat most of a pound of spaghetti.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion: In a 3-quart saucepan, combine a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, 5 tablespoons unsalted butter and a medium-sized yellow onion that has been peeled and halved.

Bring to a simmer and then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste (you might find, as I did, that your tomatoes came salted and that you didn't need to add more) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

Note: Marcella's recipe doesn't call for Parmesan, but many folks who make this sauce serve grated Parmesan with it.

From "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" (Random House, 1992)

Savoy Cabbage Salad With Avocado: In a deep salad bowl, combine 3 to 4 cups shredded Savoy cabbage (Use only the tender pale central leaves and discard the dark green ribbed outer leaves and the solid core.), 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with the flat part of a heavy knife blade, ½ large or 1 small ripe avocado, peeled and cut into thin slices, fine sea salt, 11/2 tablespoons wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper. Toss thoroughly and allow to stand at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove garlic and serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

From "Marcella Says," (2004, HarperCollins)

FRICASSEED CHICKEN ABRUZZI-STYLE WITH ROSEMARY, WHITE WINE, CHERRY TOMATOES AND OLIVES
Ingredients:
1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 or 5 teaspoons rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
Salt
1/4 teaspoon hot chili pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
24 cherry tomatoes, if no larger than 1 inch, or fewer if larger
12 small black olives in brine, such as Italian Riviera or French nicoise olives

Method:
Wash chicken pieces in cold water and pat dry with kitchen towels. Choose a skillet or sauté pan that can contain all the chicken pieces in one layer without crowding. Put in the oil, garlic and rosemary and turn heat to high. Add chicken, skin side facing down. When it has been well-browned, turn the chicken pieces to brown the other side. Sprinkle with salt, add chili pepper and with a wooden spoon, turn the contents of the pan 3 or 4 times.

Add wine, and as it bubbles, scrape loose with the wooden spoon the browning residues sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Put a lid on the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 35 minutes, turning the chicken over from time to time. If the pan juices are not enough to keep meat from sticking to the bottom, replenish when necessary with 2 to 3 tablespoons water.

(Recipe may be prepared several hours ahead of time to this point. Gently, fully reheat chicken before adding tomatoes and olives.)

When the chicken is very tender - the meat should come easily off the bone - add the tomatoes and olives. Continue cooking just until the tomato skins begin to crack. Transfer to a warm platter and serve at once. Serves 4 people.

From "Marcella Cucina," (HarperCollins, 1997)

BOLOGNESE SAUCE FOR PASTA
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, torn into pieces, with juice
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta (preferably spaghetti), cooked and drained
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table

Method:
Put oil, 3 tablespoons butter and chopped onion in a heavy 3 1/2-quart pot; turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent, then add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.

Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until beef has lost its raw, red color.

Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating, about 1/8 teaspoon, fresh nutmeg and stir.

Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.

Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add ½ cup water as necessary. At the end of cooking, however, the water should be completely evaporated and the fat should separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

Add remaining tablespoon butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

From "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

E-mail brandtlinda11@gmail.com.

Last modified: October 14, 2013
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