'Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking' by Marcella Hazan


By Nancy Smorch

I just bought this cookbook, "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking," by Marcella Hazan. I happened to hear about it this morning when I received an e-mail from Food52. This led me to one of Marcella’s recipes: Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter. I read it over and was intrigued by its simplicity, and by the rave reviews it received.

I’m a big fan of keeping recipes simple so that you can enjoy and enhance the flavors of the ingredients you are using.  I’ve experienced how wonderfully this approach works, first-hand, on many occasions - especially when I’m using food that is in season.

So, I ran out to Barnes and Noble today to pick up her book (and actually walked out of Barnes and Noble with ONLY one book this time!), and then to the store to get the ingredients for this recipe.

I decided to do a little research on Marcella, as it’s always fun for me to learn about the people that are creative and authentic, especially when it comes to food.

Marcella was born in Italy in 1924, but had never really cooked until she moved to the United States. In Italy, her mother, grandmother, and maids would do all of the cooking.

But, when she moved to New York with her husband and had to cook for him, she had to teach herself. She bought a few cookbooks and tried to learn from them, but found that she could remember the recipes and details of her family’s traditional Italian way of cooking and found that to be much more satisfying.

She actually started giving cooking lessons in her New York apartment, and eventually opened The School of Classic Italian Cooking. Her first cookbook was published in 1973, and she is credited to bringing classic Italian cooking to America.

According to an article published in the New York Times: 

“Mrs. Hazan had no formal culinary education but she became an expert, raising awareness not only of dishes like risotto and polenta, but also of once-exotic ingredients like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto di Parma, canned plum tomatoes from Italy and Italian extra-virgin olive oil. Today, such ingredients are found in most American supermarkets and used, Mrs. Hazan believed, with perhaps too much enthusiasm.”

Just like with everything else, we Americans tend not to know when to stop!

Marcella passed away on Sept. 29 of this year at the age of 89. It will be in her honor that I will prepare her simple and delicious-looking Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter for dinner tomorrow evening.

Much gratitude to Marcella for staying true to who she was and where she came from and for bringing that authenticity to the rest of us!