Monday, October 7, 2013

Mastering The Art Of Italian Cooking

I was sad to learn about Marcella Hazan’s passing last week. Kim Severson wrote a wonderful piece about her in the NY Times. I hadn’t known that much about her background, except that, like Julia, she didn’t embark on a culinary career until (moderately) late in life. In fact, she was often called the Julia Child of Italian Cooking and she dedicated More Classic Italian Cooking to Julia…and James Beard.)

When I discovered Marcella Hazan decades ago, she was already the most authoritative voice of Italian cooking in the states. Her recipes still stand today as fine examples of classic Italian dishes, hence the names of two of her most famous books - The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking.

Everything is made by hand. There are no mixes or powders. Hazan did use canned tomatoes, for sure, because those are often better than fresh ones out of season. And she did allow the occasional canned broth. But most recipes begin with olive oil and garlic and many require only a few ingredients.

My favorite Marcella Hazan recipe is a simple one of Pasta with Peas and Peppers - Maccheroncini coi piselli e i peperoni

Each ingredient is handled perfectly. You blister the skin of the red peppers over a gas burner or under a broiler and place them in a paper bag to steam just a bit and then peel off the skin. They aren’t flabby like jarred roasted red peppers; they still have a bit of crunch. And all the better if you leave a bit of the roasted skin on. It reveals to the diner this extra step you took. (Plus the taste of the charred skin is a nice accent.)

Then diced prosciutto is cooked in butter, the peas are added and so are the chopped peppers. Finally a good cup of cream is poured in with salt and pepper. That mixture is tossed with freshly cooked baby macaroni and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. How easy is that? And how good? Very…although these days I might substitute a ¼ cup of that cream with stock or pasta water.

Anyway, email me for the recipe if you’d like the exact ingredients. It’s from More Classic Italian Cooking. Or even better, raid the cookbook shelf of your grandmother, mother, well-read foodie friend and take a look at any of Hazan’s recipes for a fantastic introduction to authentic Italian food.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very nice tribute to the most famous cook that most people have never heard of. These days there is a lot of regional Italian food in the U.S., but that wasn't always the case. The more experience I have with cooking, the more I appreciate the no-nonsense approach Mrs. Hazan brought to her books. When I first read through them, I was a little put-off by the "you must make it this way" tone of the recipes. But now I value having her books as a reference, and know enough to make the dishes work for me, like you did in your suggestion for adding some pasta water for part of the cream.