CHICAGO Tacked up in my cubicle, its edges curling, is a David Sipress cartoon printed in Gastronomica long ago. A woman messes with a food processor while a friend gapes, incredulous, at a shrine over the stove, a tiny figure in an alcove decorated with flowers and lit candles.
“It’s not a saint, exactly,” the caption reads. “It’s Marcella Hazan.”
Marcella Hazan was the patron saint of my kitchen. I have often joked with friends, declaring that impossible idea. But it’s actually true, in a way. For Marcella’s voice has informed my cooking, my thinking about Italian dishes and ingredients and how to treat them, for more than 25 years.
And so she has for legions of fans, all of whom must have stopped and thought of their favorite recipes of hers when they heard that she died Sept. 29.
Through her hugely influential cookbooks, Marcella became the queen of Italian cooking in this country, as the Chicago Tribune food section declared in a 2005 cover story marking the publication of her last cookbook, “Marcella Says …”
The story of her long career as cookbook author and teacher, launched with “The Classic Italian Cookbook” in 1973 – written at the urging of New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne – is well known. That career and her fan base were built on her six cookbooks (translated from her Italian writings into English by her husband, Victor), stressing authentic flavors, techniques and ingredients.
As I contemplated what to make for dinner after hearing the news of her death that Sunday, I leafed through a few of Marcella’s books. With the evening slipping away, I flipped past ambitious projects.
What would Marcella do? Why not a homemade spaghetti, with the simplest of sauces, aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil)? It seemed very Marcella – simple ingredients, carefully crafted with attention to flavor and texture – and it seemed very me.
I used her dough recipe, a ratio of 2 large eggs for 1 cup flour, adjusting for the oversize farmer’s market eggs – just as Marcella would have us do. Her recipe produced silken, soft dough. Dinner was heavenly.
And I thought, it wasn’t just that Marcella taught us to cook Italian, to make a proper tomato sauce, to braise pork in milk for a luscious caramelized result. She showed us the possibilities. And she gave us confidence.
Her authoritative voice said, here, this is how you do it. Now you try.
And we did.
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