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Yesterday, the world lost a culinary great; Marcella Hazan -- the teacher, the author of six cookbooks, and the woman who changed the way Americans cook Italian food -- passed away. To honor her, the Food52 staff is sharing all that we've learned from her.
Amanda: A couple of things I learned from Marcella Hazan:
1. Marcella wrote (and taught) with great conviction, and was unafraid to tell you what not to do, which made you trust her entirely. In a lasagna recipe, she once wrote, "It is extremely important to avoid overcooking lasagna. Mushy lasagna is an abomination. And do not use boxed macaroni lasagna for this recipe." Any questions?
If I ever want to know something about Italian cooking, I open Marcella's books first. Her recipes are also beautifully written -- simple sentences, with the details tightly layered so that no step looks too daunting and she never leaves you vulnerable.
2. Marcella taught us to use freshly ground black pepper (and may be the first cookbook author to put this term in an ingredient list). She got us (or some of us) to understand that pasta dishes are about the pasta, not the sauce. And to value water, which she called the "phantom ingredient" in Italian cooking.
I always loved how she and her husband, Victor, were a team, with Marcella the creative force and Victor the strategist and translator. I was heartened to hear he was with her when she died.
Merrill: Like so many others, Marcella led me to the vital realization that there is no better elixir than tomatoes, onions and butter bubbling together in a pot. And as for butter, she taught me that pretty much everything is better with a spoonful or two -- even pesto.
Hannah: Marcella Hazan is the reason I don't own a garlic press.
Kenzi: Marcella taught me the simple art of red sauce. That sauce is what I make for company, for special occasions, and it's also what I make when it's late and I'm cooking for just myself.
Kristen: I'll say the obvious. Marcella changed how we all make tomato sauce: her way is smarter, purer, better. And by we all, I mean not just her fans but most people who've read a food blog in the past 10 years. Imagine the other gems hiding in her many books -- let's all start blogging about those too.
Marian: Marcella -- via her sauce, whose value has already been articulated -- is the person who taught me that the beauty of Italian cooking is in its simplicity. She was a wrangler of ingredients and a teacher above all else.
Lindsay-Jean: I have to repeat. Marcella taught me how to make tomato sauce. It was a revelation to learn that I never needed to pick up a jar of pasta sauce at a supermarket again.
Maddy: Marcella taught me to love anchovies far, far beyond their role in caesar salads. She taught me to add them to sauces, soups, and spreads without a word to my husband or dinner guests and to trust that no one will realize that a little bit of salty fish is what makes that sauce/soup/spread taste so darn good.
Brette: Marcella Hazan taught me, quite simply, how to cook for myself: her recipes, especially that sauce, were the first things I ever cooked myself when I moved into my own apartment. Through her books, I learned that three ingredients can -- and should! -- make for a fine dinner, and I fully credit her for the way I cook for myself now.
Amelia: One of the greatest things I learned from Marcella Hazan was what simple cooking actually means: "Simple doesn't mean easy. I can describe simple cooking thus: Cooking that is stripped all the way down to those procedures and those ingredients indispensable in enunciating the sincere flavor intentions of a dish."
Amanda: P.S. Yesterday I bought tomatoes at the Greenmarket to make her tomato sauce -- figured it would be the last chance of the season to cook it with fresh tomatoes.
Merrill: Same here!
What did Marcella Hazan teach you?