What Marcella Hazan Taught Us

September 30, 2013

Marcella Hazan Braised Celery from Food52

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:

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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. 

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter from Food52

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.

Tomato Sauce from Food52

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.

Anchovies from Food52

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?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Valentina Solfrini
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


Gal March 25, 2018
Here is a beautiful blog by Robin L. Cole called "COOKING THE BOOK: MARCELLA HAZAN’S ESSENTIALS OF CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING", which I enjoyed reading. Robin got the urge to cook her way through Marcella Hazan’s book 'Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking' and she is sharing her experiences and her new revelations with the food. After cooking Marcella's “Sautéed Green Beans with Parmesan Cheese” (pg. 472) Robin writes, "One thing I love about this cook-through, is how it gets me to see old things in new ways. I love green beans, I love Parmesan cheese…. Yet, for some reason, I never thought to combine the two".
PG T. October 2, 2015
No Marcella Hazan fan should miss this wonderful tribute written by her husband Victor -
KellyinToronto April 16, 2014
Her red sauce holds the spirit of Italian cooking: Good tomatoes, a touch of onion, some butter, technique, patience and love. (I admit to adding the occasional anchovy and rouge clove of garlic in there too) .
Fran W. April 15, 2014
I have been making Marcella's Bolognese sauce ever since I was gifted her cookbook years ago. Its the only one I make, people love it, and I'm spoiled for ordering anything Bolognese in a restaurant - ever!
Valentina S. October 1, 2013
Marcella taught Italians - food biased, bossy, anal-retentive italians that Italian cuisine can thrive outside of Italy, and that a book about italian cuisine written in english can still be a gorgeous italian cookbook. She is to Italian food what Julia Child was for the French.
And she taught me, as an Italian abroad, that you can make it home wherever you go, if you have a handful of ingredients and a pan.
Exbruxelles October 1, 2013
Among many other things, Marcella taught me the magic of the braise--how a cheap butt of pork, a handfull of dried porcini mushrooms and a few juniper berries can make people literally moan with pleasure.

She was clear, direct and, let's face it, more than a little bossy. Her instructions for polenta will drive you mad, but the results are always worth it.
Fairmount_market October 1, 2013
Marcella's classic Bolognese meat sauce was the first recipe I learned to cook from a cookbook when I was a kid. I loved her authoritative tone ("cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color", "turn the heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface") and the end result was so rewardingly delicious.
mcs3000 September 30, 2013
Love all the comments, especially Amanda's: "Marcella wrote (and taught) with great conviction, and was unafraid to tell you what not to do, which made you trust her entirely." ... "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."
Eliz. September 30, 2013
What did Marcella Hazan teach me? History, vegetables and a respect for cultures that hadn't made it into the canon yet.

I grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood, the Jewish suburbs and a mid-western college town at a time when French was the only foreign language taught to children in the public schools I attended. We started in fourth grade and it made the most sense to continue conjugating the same set of verbs until my final year of college. During a semester in Paris, I bought a paperback edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking whose pages ultimately became the first to consult for dinner parties. Like 19th-century Russian aristocrats, Americans still believed deeply in the superiority of French culture.

The two volumes of The Classic Italian Cook Book came out shortly before I moved to a street in New Haven best known for pizza. If you walked in the opposite direction from Sally's and Pepe's, you could buy fresh basil and hunks of imported Parmesan at a small grocery store. It's hard to imagine now that both are staples at supermarkets, but they were about as rare as vegans back then. On the other hand, vegetarians were leaving communes behind, opening food co-ops and going mainstream. Anna Thomas and Mollie Katzen began their careers as cookbook authors around the same time that Marcella Hazan did and you could find The Vegetarian Epicure and Moosewood Cookbook tucked between jars of brown rice and lentils on college campuses everywhere. The idea that a meal could feature beautiful, fresh vegetables was a revelation and drew me to Marcella Hazan's recipes.

It's funny. I completely overlooked the tomato sauce with butter until fairly recently—when it made a splash online. For about a decade, though, the salad of roasted beets and boiled beet greens appeared on my table just every time there were guests. Who would have known what tastes ghastly out of a can could be exalted by roasting? That you could eat the entire plant! I bought a hand-cranked pasta machine because of Marcella and sat at the kitchen table filling an entire grocery bag with thick, prickly leaves to prepare her artichoke lasagne. Clearly the preface to a Neapolitan recipe made a lasting impression; the author recommends a combination of red and yellow bell peppers even though the latter seemed available only to home gardeners. A few years later, I was so delighted to discover find yellow and orange bell peppers at the farmers market in my new hometown that I mailed dozens to a friend in Brooklyn as a birthday present. Why Hazan substitutes red cabbage for black kale, I'll never know, but the soup with pancetta and beans got me through grad school.

It's difficult not to compare Julia Child and Marcella Hazan since their writing introduced two European culinary traditions to so many home cooks in this country. By singling out the Italian vegetable dishes, I don't want to overlook the fact that my crumbling Penguin paperback contains 112 pages of tiny print that offer French counterparts and that Julia Child had so many more obstacles to overcome decades earlier, "tinned mushrooms" and all. So much depends on a simple meal of trout in the French countryside for Julia Child, so the dishes Hazan culls from Italian villages and agrarian settings don't separate the Italian expatriate from an American trained at the Cordon Bleu. Marcella Hazan never became a television personality and the central library in Florence owns only one of her books as far as I know. Still, I suspect Marcella Hazan deserves a lot of credit for moving us beyond the world of "Big Night" (1996) and for the fact that we recognize general distinctions between cooking in Northern and Southern regions of Italy. She paved the way for Lynne Rossetto Kasper's classic on Emilia-Romagna and by the beginning of the 21st century, the number of titles devoted to Italian regional cooking eclipsed the numbers devoted to French cuisine in bookstores. Even Marcella Hazan uses the word "cuisine" when she writes about Italian food. However, I'd like to believe her influence still registers in our greater appreciation for culinary traditions developed outside of France and perhaps, ultimately, in places other than Europe.
Victoria C. April 23, 2014
This is such a lovely "comment;" it's really a post in itself.
AntoniaJames September 30, 2013
Her two "classic" cookbooks were among the very first cookbooks I bought for myself as a young bride. Among many other things too numerous to count, she taught me to put a lot of salt in the water used for cooking pasta.
We made her outstanding, understated Dolce Torinese for the big dinner party we threw to honor my mother shortly after she died. That says it all, right there. ;o)
SoupLady September 30, 2013
My very first cookbook when I was 11 yrs old was a mass market paperback copy of Classics of Italian Cooking (Part I, I think). I tore into that book like my life depended on it. I couldn't believe that there was more than one kind of tomato sauce and that you could stuff mushrooms with ham and bechamel. Marcella Hazan taught me how to cook, how to appreciate a well-written recipe, and helped (along with my grandmother) foster a life-long love of cookbooks and great food. Viva Marcella.
Katie September 30, 2013
What a beautiful tribute to her memory. Her red sauce changed my perception of cooking- proving that simplicity and a handful of quality ingredients can create a masterpiece.
jessica September 30, 2013
marcella taught me how to roast the perfect chicken. i never stray from her method, ever! she also taught me to appreciate the art of bolognese. she was a treasure.
Elissa September 30, 2013
It is because of Marcella I wanted to learn more and more about Cucina Italiana and it brought me here to find my heart and home in Italy. An incredible inspiration. You are with my always! Grazie
dymnyno September 30, 2013
She was truly a Grande Dame. I think of her every time I make her tomato sauce ,the ultimate Genius Recipe.
Sasha (. September 30, 2013
What a lovely tribute to a wonderful woman. May she live on through her beautiful recipes and the friends and family who continue to gather and enjoy her life's work.
FamilyStyle F. September 30, 2013
Oh, Marcella. I'm so sad. She's inspired me throughout my life of cooking, from just learning over two decades ago (her roast chicken with lemon for starters) and now as I write for my blog. My most recent Marcella treasure is her almond cake recipe in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I modified it with walnuts and cocoa and it's so wonderful and simple -- Venetian Walnut Cake. Marcella will live on in my kitchen!
ChefJune September 30, 2013
I forgot to say that I had made her tomato sauce a couple of days ago, and so we celebrated her last evening by starting with a pasta course of casarecce dressed with that luscious sauce. My BF said he had never tasted so much tomato in tomato sauce before. The flavor was so bright and pure.
Panfusine September 30, 2013
Marcella Hazans legacy will live on in my kitchen,year after year, through her Tomato Sauce with onion & butter, a staple ever since Food52 posted the recipe. Thank you Mrs. Hazan, R.I.P
ChefJune September 30, 2013
If you have never made Marcella's Roasted Lemon Chicken, you have an amazing treat awaiting you. And no basting!Marcela was so generous with her advice and her history of the food and how it is so woven into Italian culture. If you look at her facebook page you'll see lengthy conversations with cooks on myriad topics. I loved the way her daughter-in-law Lael said she "melted away."