A Real Italian Classic; Marcella Hazan Celebrates 80 Years of Cooking

By Kalins, Dorothy | Newsweek International, June 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Real Italian Classic; Marcella Hazan Celebrates 80 Years of Cooking


Kalins, Dorothy, Newsweek International


Byline: Dorothy Kalins

In 1973, when Marcella Hazan published "The Classic Italian Cookbook," balsamic vinegar was still fermenting in blissful obscurity under the roofs of Modena. She's been called the Julia Child of Italian food, but that's not quite right. Julia opened the world of French cuisine to her readers; Marcella taught us to make dinner.

Author of five seminal cookbooks--a sixth and self-proclaimed last, "Marcella Says...," will be published this fall--Marcella turned 80 this spring, and her fans and her family have leapt at the occasion to honor her with parties at home and abroad, culminating with a grand fete in Verona. For 30 years Marcella has taught avid amateurs, first in Bologna, then in Venice, always with long intervals in New York. Five years ago she moved far from Venice's vibrant Rialto market to Longboat Key, on Florida's west coast, and, in a challenge we all face, now shops mostly at the local grocery store.

Every time we roast a chicken with two lemons tucked inside or saute a chicken cacciatore or make a minestrone or stir up a risotto (only with short-grain Italian rice), hell, every time we throw a handful of pasta into (lots of rapidly) boiling water (adding salt only when it comes to a boil), just knowing Marcella was there first gives us the confidence to make her food our own.

Now she's sitting at a table at the French Culinary Institute in New York, the only place she still teaches (twice a year), as her 12 students worry the skins off green peppers with those swivel, slingshot peelers. "Peppers, unless you roast them, must be peeled, or else they're too bitter." "You!" she scolds in that signature voice, roughened as much by Marlboros as by the years (Simone Signoret would play her). "You press too much, I can see from here." One former student recalls her watching him pound a scaloppine of veal. "What are you making, a leather belt?" she taunted, mischievously rolling her eyes. "Marcella," says her friend Town & Country editor Pamela Fiori, "minces garlic. She does not mince words."

Marcella is famously cranky. Her friends dread taking her out to dinner, not because she's a prima donna, but because as a home cook she's uneasy, distrustful in restaurants, deeply disappointed when bad things happen to good ingredients. "Most restaurants, I see ideas on a plate. …

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