Saturday, October 12, 2013

R.I.P. Marcella

One of the doyennes of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan has passed on.

Anybody who has cooked from any of her books know her almost personally. The harrying tone, the quest for perfection, the quiet disappointment when the ingredients are not up to the mark and the absolute insistence that there be a feast on the table most nights no matter what the ingredients or circumstances.

Her recipes substitute freely but hold on the Platonic ideal. Ignorance is not tolerated and idiocy even less so.

You can clearly hear the unique voice of a woman who smoked to beat the band and preferred Scotch to wine and yet had a most impressive palate.

As a teacher, she understood indolence and the time pressures of modern life, and like a grandmother, indulged her wavering students.
When you are unable to get good fresh tomatoes, rather than cook with watery, tasteless ones, it's best to turn to the dependable canned variety.
Even when fresh porcini -- wild boletus edulis mushrooms -- are available, the dried version compels consideration ...
And possibly the most accurate (and liberating!) statement about pasta of all time:
There is not the slightest justification for the currently fashionable notion that 'fresh' pasta is preferable to factory-made dry pasta. One is not better than the other, they are simply different... They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality, they are fully equal.
But not too indolent!

She tried "again and again" to square the principles of Italian cooking with microwave. Happily, all her attempts were utter failures.

You'd learn more about cooking vegetables from her almost twenty pages of detailed notes than any class or even in a professional kitchen. Her recipe for chicken with two lemons (plus salt and pepper, nothing else!) is a legend.

There are darker sides too. She was oddly uncurious about the science of food — a most shocking revelation about someone with a doctorate in natural sciences and biology. She intuited the role of mushrooms in what we now call umami but only understood it late in life. There are odd generalizations and superstitions. Explanations call upon experience rather than something more fundamental in nature.

However, these are all quibbles.

What mattered most of all is that her recipes have a tendency to be magnificent successes. The hit ratio is the highest of all the cookbooks that the CC has ever owned. "Let's look up Marcella" is practically a cliché around this household.

The CC definitely owes her a debt of gratitude and it's a pity he never met her. She will definitely be missed.

Ciao bella!

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