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October 2, 2013

Grazie, Marcella

Hazan did for Italian cookery what Child did for French

My mother’s generation had their love affair with Julia Child. Mine —perhaps in response to watching the pots and dirty dishtowels stack up, as our mothers mastered “The Art of French Cooking,” —was with Marcella.

Marcella Hazan, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 89, became the voice, famously authoritative, of excellent Italian cooking. As Julia introduced Americans to coq au vin, Marcella sent spaghetti and meatballs back to the Italian-American restaurant kitchens, and taught us that Italian cuisine is as varied as the country itself.

Julia ruled complicated French recipes with her high-pitched giggle and a sip of cooking wine, Marcella reigned over Italian simplicity with a sharp mezzaluna, and stern words. And she liked whiskey.

In Hazan’s cookbooks we learned the regulations to and importance of tossing pasta. “In the sequence of steps that leads to producing a dish of pasta and getting it to the table, none is more important than tossing. Up to the time you toss, pasta and sauce are two separate entities. Tossing makes them one.”

If olive oil is the fat in the sauce, add small additions of it as you toss; if butter is the fat in the sauce, add a couple of teaspoons of butter into the pasta and sauce as you toss.

Egg pasta must be tossed in a wide platter, because it is too delicate to toss in a deep bowl.

That old trick we had proudly acquired of adding a tablespoon of pasta water to the sauce to thicken it? Marcella says, well, it’s OK in some recipes, but “when the practice becomes routine it ends up being boring” — too gelatinous tasting for her.

Discipline the garlic, Marcella demanded. “The unbalanced use of garlic is the single greatest cause of failure in would-be Italian cooking.”

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