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Remembering Marcella Hazan

Marcella Hazan

On September 29, legendary cookbook writer and culinary instructor Marcella Hazan passed away in Longboat Key, Florida. She was 89 years old.  Hazan stumbled into her culinary career and soon became a preeminent voice in Italian cuisine. The author of six cookbooks, Hazan revolutionized the way Americans cooked and appreciated Italian food.

Hazan was born in the sleepy fishing village of Cesenatico, Italy. Her father, Guiseppe Polino, was a tailor who’d worked all over the world. Her mother, Maria Leonelli was known as a tall, handsome woman. The family moved to Alexandria, Egypt when young Marcella was two years old, to be close to Maria’s family. But when Marcella broke her arm at age seven, she and her mother returned to Bologna for medical treatment. A series of operations left Marcella with only partial use of her arm and a crooked hand.

Marcella Hazan-husband Victor

Marcella and Victor in Italy

In the 1950’s, Hazan earned doctoral degrees in both geology and biology. Soon after, she went back to Cesenatico to look for work and met Victor Hazan. The two married and lived in Milan, Florence, and Rome before moving to the United States in 1967. Though Hazan had taken little interest in cooking during her childhood, she still prepared classic Italian dishes for her family, even packing them in her son, Guiliano’s lunch boxes. But the other students made fun of Guiliano, so Hazan relented and made him sandwiches.

Meanwhile, Hazan enjoyed availing herself of the dining options in Manhattan. She found herself often eating at Pearl’s, a Chinese restaurant, and decided to learn how to cook Chinese food. Hazan enrolled in a Chinese cookery class–only to find that it was cancelled after only one session. Her fellow students entreated her to teach them Italian cooking instead, and Hazan agreed. After that “I never took another cooking class,” she said, “because I got too busy doing my own.”

Hazan’s classes drew quite a crowd, eventually attracting the notice of New York Times food writer and critic Craig Claiborne. The two became lifelong friends, and Claiborne’s feature article on Hazan jumpstarted her culinary career. Hazan built a name for herself by setting a new standard for Italian food prepared in America. She advocated a four-ingredient sauce, lamented the overuse of garlic, demanded that people use extra virgin olive oil, and strived to remind people of “simple, true” cooking. Julia Child came to regard Hazan as her “mentor in all things Italian.”

When Hazan finally decided to write a cookbook, she soon learned that the process wasn’t easy. She wasn’t one for measuring, and trying to document ingredients only resulted in mistakes. Finally her husband Victor put transparent covers on her pots and bowls to make it easier to capture measurements as she worked. It was also Victor who translated all her books into English; Hazan wrote them only in Italian. Her first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cookbook, was published in 1973.

Hazan would go on to publish several more books. She claimed that Marcella Cucina (1997) would be her last, but went on to publish both Marcella Says: Italian Cooking Wisdom from the Legendary Teachers Master Classes with 120 of Her Irresistible Recipes (2004) and Amacord: Marcella Remembers (2008). Victor has one final manuscript awaiting translation: Ingredienti is scheduled for publication by Scribner in 2014.

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2 comments on “Remembering Marcella Hazan

  1. Sally
    October 3, 2013

    I love that nugget of information about her son being ashamed of his (probably far superior) packed lunches.

    • bibliophiliackm
      October 3, 2013

      So did I! The adult me can’t imagine turning down red bean soup and homemade tortellini for a PB &J. Thanks for reading, Sally.

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This entry was posted on October 2, 2013 by in Food and Literature and tagged , .
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