Marcella Hazan was one of America’s most knowledgeable and determined experts on Italian cooking. What made her its grand dame was her dedication, precision and hard work. She always stayed true to the traditional recipes of Italy’s different regions.
Born in Emilia-Romagna, she earned a doctorate in natural sciences and biology at the University of Ferrara. She married Victor Hazan, and the couple arrived in New York in 1955. Although Marcella’s mother and grandmother cooked, she never spent much time at the stove growing up. Once in America, though, she disliked many of the popular Italian American dishes and would not accept the offerings of many of the Italian eateries. And so began her cooking quest. She cooked for family and friends, and then, with Victor’s support, she set out to teach America the real regional foods of Italy from her home kitchen in Manhattan.
Hazan took to teaching cooking with the approach of a university professor: She studied, analyzed and cooked from Ada Boni’s comprehensive regional Italian cookbook and others. After taking a class on Chinese cooking, she was confident that she could use her own knowledge to teach Italian cuisine and began offering classes in her apartment. From there, she began writing down her recipes and eventually authoring cookbooks.
During my early years as a chef, I often referred to her cookbooks and continued to do so as I began writing my own. Her recipes and instructions are clear and simple; in fact, her recipes always work. Hazan wrote and taught about the Italian sensibility for products and technique, and she made sure the history and regionality of the recipe was clear. When I was in doubt about the authenticity of a particular recipe, I would check her books to reconfirm.
Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cook Book,” published in 1973, was the first comprehensive regional Italian cookbook in America. She was a true pioneer, and her work opened doors for all of us who followed in showcasing the beauty and delights of the traditional regional cuisine of Italy.