The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Passing of Marcella Hazan, Godmother of Italian Cooking

I Don't Think The Void Will Ever Be Filled

I never had the honor of meeting Marcella Hazan. I know a few people who experienced her first
hand and from all I've been told, she was a force to be reckoned with. Like any Italian cook worth his salt, I own a dog-eared copy of her "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."

Food personality Alton Brown turned me on to Marcella's seminal work, a book he received as a wedding gift: "I spent a college semester in a small town in Italy—and that is where I truly tasted food for the first time. Upon returning to the States, I tried to hunt down recipes for the dishes I had come to love, but the few that I found produced results that fell far short of the meals I remembered. Then a friend gave my wife and me Marcella Hazan's 'Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking' as a wedding present. I decided to try out one of the risottos, a recipe calling for porcinis, no less. It was a success: At last I had found a way to recapture the flavors of Italy that I had known. But I had also found an appealing cooking companion. Hazan's tone and manner put her right there with me in the kitchen. She didn't beat me to death with hard-to-find ingredients, she wasn't snobby or fussy—she was just a nice Italian mama showing me the ropes. (Even the desserts are terrific; check out the stunningly simple and delicious chilled black grape pudding.) In the years that followed, I read and cooked my way through probably a hundred Italian cookbooks, but in the end I always came back to this one."

The book is near the top of his recommended reading list, as well it should be.

Marcella Hazan died yesterday at the age of 89. Sometimes when important political figures pass away, flags are lowered. When prominent entertainers die, lights are dimmed. I don't know how to recognize the void Marcella will leave in the culinary world, but I don't think the void will ever be filled.

There is a fascinating backstory to this woman who has been called by some "the Julia Child of Italian cooking." I've seen the words "legend," "icon," "famous," and "influential" liberally dispersed throughout numerous tributes today. And the sentiment that she changed the way Americans cook Italian food, or that she caused Americans to fall in love with Italian cuisine has been expressed by nearly every writer I've read. So I'm not going to attempt to add anything and I'm not going to reconstruct her life and career here. If you knew who she was, I don't have to tell you and if you didn't know who she was, I suggest you first do a search for her then go out and buy any of her cookbooks, especially "Essentials," the one that is a veritable bible when it comes to the principles of Italian cooking.

After the marvelous and eye-opening contributions Marcella Hazan made to my culinary education, all I'll say now is, "addio, grande signora, e grazie."

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