By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi
When I read of Marcella Hazan’s death in late September, I felt more than a twinge of nostalgia. She had virtually no cooking skills when she arrived in the United States in 1955. She was from the province of Emilia-Romagna, home to Bologna and Modena, to name two, an area rich in its own Italian delicacies as the heart of Northern Italian cuisine. While she held a Ph.D. in Biology and knew her way around scientific research, she was less adept in the kitchen. I picture her as aghast at what mainstream Americans perceived as “Italian food”: spaghetti drenched in tomato paste, sugar and some version of canned tomatoes. It pains me to know there are still those in the U.S. who think Chef Boyardee spaghetti in a can is authentic Italian cuisine. I can only imagine Marcella choking on that quintessential summer repast: hamburgers slathered in yellow mustard and dripping with ketchup, which is not all that bad if the beef and buns are from Whole Foods. Since Whole Foods was not on the supermarket horizon in the 1950’s, my guess is that Marcella grimaced at the “new” frozen dinners that had begun to appear in frozen food cases.
Marcella was married to Victor Hazan; they had one son, Giuliano, who is also a prodigious cook. She learned English from watching television, and she learned to cook using the lone Italian cookbook her husband had. A legendary cook began to blossom. Her tomato sauce that incorporates only tomatoes, a large onion, butter, and salt has always intrigued me. Marcella’s is good, but I still prefer our Southern Italian family pasta sauce. What she drove home was the importance of regional Italian cooking in its purest versions. I loved the way she extolled the virtues of simple recipes utilizing simple ingredients.
Marcella Hazan reminded me of my own parents’ Italian cooking that used basic Italian ingredients coupled with a dash of panache. Pasta and tomato sauce sound good on this chilly autumn evening.
Ciao for now.