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In Memoriam — Marcella Hazan (1924-2013)

As you might have heard recently, Marcella Hazan died yesterday morning. In my opinion, she was the “Julia Child of Italian food”. She was widely credited with introducing the public in the United States and in the United Kingdom to the techniques of traditional Italian cuisine. She is one of my kitchen goddesses.

Originally, I had a post on zucchini alla scapece (“zucchini fried in olive oil, and marinated with garlic, mint and vinegar”) slated to go up today, but that can wait for another time. This moment is too important.

Marcella taught me many things: that onion is more important than garlic in the universe of traditional Italian cooking; that what we know as “Italian cooking” is really a collection of regional cuisines; that the combination of tomatoes, butter and onion results in a marvelous, luscious tomato sauce that easily beats most of what’s out there; that the pleasures of the table are essential to the enjoyment of life; and that it is more difficult to prepare a simple dish well than it is to execute a complicated one.

M. Hazan's tomato sauce

Fagiolini e patate

Stufato di verdure

Poached shrimp, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice

In addition, she embodies one of the pillars of inspiration behind the premise of Simple Kitchen Seasons: that food is something best celebrated not only by time shared at the table in communion with our friends and loved ones, but also in the living of our everyday lives by experiencing in the beauty of the world around us, as reflected in the seasons and the river of time.

Ricotta gnocchi with Marcella's tomato sauce

I don’t have many stories to share. I do remember a Facebook thread where I posted a picture of tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce on her Wall last year.

Tagliatelle with Marcella Hazan's Bolognese sauce

I mentioned offhandedly that I didn’t have any celery in the fridge, so I substituted fennel instead since that was what I had on hand. Her reaction was completely unexpected at the time, but in retrospect, I should have seen it coming. It was as if I was committing an unpardonable sin in the kitchen. The ensuing conversation we had developed into a rollicking dialogue that eventually touched on, among other things, the uses of celery as a main ingredient and in soffritto, and the amount of wiggle room one can reasonably expect to have (that doesn’t change the nature of a dish) when following a recipe. Marcella was exacting and opinionated, while at the same time warm, patient and generous of the time she spent with friends and strangers alike.

I will miss her dearly. The world is indeed, lessened by her passing.


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In the Pantry

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