Marcella Hazan

In the NYT on September 30th, an obituary, “Marcella Hazan Dies: Changed the Way Americans Cook Italian Food” by Kim Severson, beginning:

In his early days as a rising star chef, Mario Batali received a letter from Marcella Hazan after he had made risotto in a sauté pan on his television show, “Molto Mario.”

In it, the exacting and sometimes prickly Italian-born cook told Mr. Batali he was all wrong. In no uncertain terms, Mrs. Hazan told him the only proper way to make risotto was in a saucepan. He did not agree, but the two became friends anyway, sitting down over glasses of Jack Daniel’s whenever their paths crossed.

… Mrs. Hazan, a chain-smoking, determined former biology scholar who reluctantly moved to America and went on to teach a nation to cook Italian food, died Sunday at her home in Longboat Key, Fla. She was 89.

Hazan’s first book: The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating (Knopf, 1973).

More of the story from the Times:

Mrs. Hazan embraced simplicity, precision and balance in her cooking. She abhorred the overuse of garlic in much of what passed for Italian food in the United States, and would not suffer fools afraid of salt or the effort it took to find quality ingredients.

… When Mrs. Hazan arrived in New York in 1955, Italian food was still exotic, served in restaurants with straw-covered Chianti bottles and red-checked tablecloths.

She was a newlywed who did not speak English, transplanted to a country whose knowledge of her native cuisine was not much more than spaghetti covered with what, to her, tasted like overly spiced ketchup.

… What was worse, she had no cooking skills herself.

… In the couple’s tiny apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, Mrs. Hazan began to learn English by watching television and following the Brooklyn Dodgers. And she began to learn to cook, relying on her memory and Mr. Hazan’s copy of a cookbook by Ada Boni.

… Both editors and students in the classes the couple taught here and at their school in Italy could be rocked on their heels by Mrs. Hazan’s sometimes brusque manner.

Two personal connections for me here: Ada Boni and Hazan’s brusque manner. Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking (E. P. Dutton, English translation 1973) was long a favorite in my household. It takes up each region in turn, giving descriptions of the region and its food, with fine photos, and then providing the recipes. As for Hazan’s manner, an aquaintance of mine with a cooking school once had Hazan as a guest teacher; my acquaintance described Hazan as “a real bitch”, but adding that Hazan was very good at what she did.

On Boni, from a Chicago Tribune article of 5/15/13 by Bill Daley about her:

Ada Boni’s cookbook “Il Talismano della Felicità” is considered to be the Italian “Joy of Cooking.” It’s easy to see why: Published in 1928, the book (which translates as “the talisman of happiness” in English) quickly became a must-have for generations of Italian women and went through multiple editions and revisions.

… By the time Boni died at age 92 in 1973, The New York Times would note that “Talisman” and a later work titled “Italian Regional Cooking” were among the “best-known books on Italian cuisine.”

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