Marcella Hazan 1924-2013

September 30th, 2013 · 25 Comments · Pork and Beef, Rituals

Marcella Hazan, who changed the way Americans think about Italian cooking, and who feels like family in our house even though we knew her only through recipes, died yesterday. She was 89.

Here is a beautiful obituary in The New York Times.

Here is a tribute I wrote this morning for Bon Appetit.

Here is her famous Bolognese.

Here is her famous Tomato Sauce that calls for three ingredients: tomatoes, onion, butter.

Here is her famous Milk-braised Pork. (I think it might’ve been of the first post Andy ever wrote for this blog.)

Here is proof of how important she has been in our kitchen, from the moment I first heard her name in 1993.

Here is the cookbook you should buy in her honor, and cook from for the rest of your life.

Thank you, Marcella.

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Real Deal Bolognese

January 17th, 2012 · 59 Comments · Pasta, Pork and Beef

Like a lot of people I know, I returned from my first trip to Italy in 1993 determined to teach myself how to cook. The eating in Florence, where Andy was “studying” art for the summer, was so revelatory that I didn’t waste a whole lot of time once the wheels touched down Stateside. On the way home from the airport, I stopped by our local bookstore and found my friend Matt behind the counter. I asked if he could recommend a good Italian cookbook that might offer even just a hint of what I had just experienced across the Atlantic. As far as I know, Matt never cooked a thing in his life, but he will forever hold a special place in my heart because he handed me The Classic Italian Cookbook, by Marcella Hazan, and, with the understatement of the decade, told me, “People seem to really like her.”

The name was familiar — Andy’s Aunt Patty had already introduced us to Marcella’s milk-braised pork loin — so I plunked down my five bucks for the mass market-y looking paperback, started flipping through it, and for almost twenty years have not stopped. That’s probably why the book, held together by masking tape, now looks like this:

It’s sort of like looking at Luca Bear, my daughter’s dingy teddy-bear lovey with the frayed bowtie that she has been sleeping with since she was 13 months. One look at him and you know that thing has been on the receiving end of some serious love.

The summer I first bought CIC, I tried out a few of the recognizable recipes — Tomato Sauce 1, Tomato Cream Sauce, Blender Pesto — making some real knucklehead comments in the margin as I went along. “Too garlicky” I wrote after adding three cloves of garlic to a tomato sauce that didn’t call for any garlic at all. Improvising with a Marcella recipe, I’ve since learned, is not something one does, unless one does not want to learn how to cook. You make the dish exactly the way she tells you to. In a nod to her shortcut-obsessed American audience, her headnotes are studded with phrases like “if you insist” and “if you are so inclined” (Fettucine with Gorgonzola Sauce: “You can try substituting domestic gorgonzola or other blue cheeses, if you are so inclined, but you will never achieve the perfectly balanced texture and flavor of this sauce with any cheese but choice Italian gorgonzola”), but the effect is the opposite of liberating. It makes you desperate to not disappoint her. (There are also many less passive instructions such as this one, under Mayonnaise: “I can’t imagine anyone with a serious interest in food using anything but homemade mayonnaise.”) The ingredients she uses in her recipes are all basic staples of any kitchen — butter, ground beef, salt, onions — which means that in order to yield the kinds of dishes that have earned her exalted status in the food world, it is absolutely imperative that you do not deviate from what’s written. For Hazan, who was trained as a biologist and went on to teach cooking classes in her New York apartment, it’s all about technique. When I do what I am told (literally leveling off two tablespoons of chopped onions), not only do I find  myself with insanely delicious dinners I’d be proud to serve to Grandmas Turano and Catrino, but I find myself a little smarter in the kitchen. Her bolognese, which you are looking at above, was the first Hazan recipe that we fell in love with for this reason. “It must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added,” she wrote. “This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting.” And then: “It must cook at the merest simmer for a long, long time. The minimum is 3 1/2 hours; 5 is better.” We, of course, always do five. (more…)

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“Pork in Milk”

February 28th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

My aunt Patty was the first great home cook I ever knew. She would get up at 5am, run a few miles, come home, make a big pot of coffee, and start making the gooiest, butteriest challah french toast you’ve ever seen. (At holiday time, she made it with egg nog. And she always added a dash of vanilla, a tradition we’ve continued with our own kids.) She’d clean up breakfast, and start in on lunch: maybe a wild rice salad with cranberries, maybe some egg salad sandwiches with onion and celery, maybe some chicken Milanese (she dredged in corn flakes crumbs). She’d clean up lunch, and start in on dinner. She’d stuff roasts with egg and pancetta and marinate butterflied legs of lamb in great, plastic tubs; she’d make fresh ricotta cheesecakes and tiramisu with real lady fingers and freshly whipped cream; and she would always, always turn down any offers of help. “Cooking is my therapy,” she’d say, tossing another pot onto the pile in the sink, and I remember not believing her.

Of all the things Patty would cook for us when we visited, there was one meal I looked forward to more than any other. It was based on a recipe from a woman named Marcella Hazan, a name that meant nothing to me at the time. Patty called it “pork in milk,” and she would make it just for me; it got to the point where I could sniff it out the moment I walked into her house.

“Pork in milk?” I’d say.

“How’d you know?” she’d respond.

When it was ready, she would take the pork out of the pot and slice it, put it on a platter, and bury it in mounds of nutty, slightly disconcerting-looking, sweet-smelling clusters of milk — the remnants of the braising liquid — that she spooned over the top. “Make sure you get enough clusters!” she’d say. “They’re the best part. Do you have enough? Here, take more!” I assumed, because she was Patty and because everything she did in the kitchen appeared to be designed for maximum complexity, that this “pork in milk” was difficult to make.

Turns out, it’s not.

“Pork in milk” is now one of our go-to weekend meals (and also one of the dishes enshrined on our recipe door). Our oldest daughter eats it with clusters, the younger one without, but they both eat it — and happily — which is a victory in and of itself. As for the difficulty: it’s seven ingredients and one pot, with a total hands-on time of maybe five minutes. – Andy

Click to the jump for the recipe.

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The Recipe Door

February 3rd, 2010 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

When we bought our house in 2003, the kitchen was terrible (think avocado counters, not of the charming retro variety), This was exciting to me for one reason: In a few years, when we could maybe afford to renovate, we could create the perfect family kitchen from scratch. Of course, as anyone who has lived through a renovation can attest, “perfect” means one thing to someone and another thing altogether to that someone’s spouse. (A story which deserves another post/Lifetime drama all its own.) But the idea to have an illustrator (the amazing Gina Triplett) paint recipes on the inside of an upper cabinet door was universally loved by all the decision-makers in the house, especially the kids. The only tricky part was figuring out which recipes were deserving of such an honor. Ultimately, to qualify for “cabinet door” treatment, we decided the recipe needed to be both steeped in family history and, of course, be delicious. The line-up: One recipe from each of our grandmothers  (Grandma Catrino’s biscotti, Great Grandma Turano’s meatballs)  “Rosa’s “mud cake , which my best friend’s mom served at every one of my best friend’s birthday parties when I was little, and Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork, which Aunt Patty made the first time I met my husband’s family in 1992. Now we have a private living memorial to those who have influenced me in the kitchen, and my kids will grow up with a certain reverence for these dishes. Guess that means I’m never moving.

The How-To: Triplett started by giving the door a coat of paint similar to the outside color. (This allowed her to paint over any mistakes she made along the way.) She then sketched out the words in pencil and went over them using a superfine paintbrush dipped in black paint.

PS: I’m thinking of expanding this project to a few more kitchen cabinet interiors. Does anyone have any good ideas? I was thinking of painting William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say” but what happens when plums aren’t in season?

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