Marcella Hazan: An Appreciation


(A similar version of this post appeared on American Food Roots)

There was no Julia in our house when I was growing up. My Italian-born mother was always a bit suspicious of the large woman with the warbly voice who so enthusiastically preached the art of French cooking.

But from the time her first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cook Book: The art of Italian cooking and the Italian art of eating was published in 1973, there was always Marcella.

Marcella Hazan, who taught millions of Americans how to cook Italian food at home, died Sunday at age 89. Her death saddens me more than I imagined it would. I have been cooking from her books for decades, long before I had any idea that I would pursue a career in cookbook writing myself. And although I never met her, I always felt a little bit like I knew her because she reminded me of other Italian women of a certain generation who shaped my life—most notably my own mother.

Marcella and my mother, Gabriella, were contemporaries, both born in 1924 and raised in pre-World War II Italy on the Adriatic coast, Marcella in the town of Cesenatico, in Emilia-Romagna, and my mom farther south in the city of Chieti and, in summer, the seaside villages of Abruzzo.

Marcella Hazan

Marcella Hazan

Sunday night before bed, I started flipping through Amarcord, Marcella Hazan’s memoir, which I first read when it was published in 2008. Her account of her early years—carefree days spent at the beach with her “comitiva,” (group of friends), playing pranks, and bicycling around coastal towns that had yet to become the built-up resorts that they are today—could almost have been written by my mom.

Both women came to the U.S. in the mid-1950s, and, dismayed by what passed for Italian cooking, taught themselves how to cook to feed their new husbands. They relied on what they absorbed from their own childhoods, and on the recipes of Ada Boni, whose tome “Il Talismano della Felicita,” first published in 1928, taught generations of Italian women how to cook.

By the time The Classic Italian Cook Book was published, my mother was already accomplished in the kitchen, thanks to Boni and to her other trusted sources—La Cucina Italiana, Italy’s premier cooking magazine, to which she subscribed for many years, and Pellegrino Artusi, Italy’s revered 19th century authority on gastronomy. But when my father brought her home a copy of Marcella’s book, my mom promptly made room on her shelf, and kept on doing so with every subsequent book published.

She agreed with almost all of Marcella’s pronouncements, such as: “Italians would find any discussion of something called ‘salad dressing’ very puzzling…Dressing is a process rather than an object, a verb rather than a noun,” and “Ah, pasta, what sins have been committed in thy name!”

When I moved to Detroit as a young woman to take a job as a newspaper reporter, my mother gave me my own copy of The Classic Italian Cook Book,with this inscription, dated May 1990: “To my dearest daughter Domenica, great cook—Marcella is one of my favorites and I’m sure will also be yours. Have fun! Much love, Mamma.”

My mother has always been my primary go-to source for Italian cooking, but Marcella remains a close second. And while her tomato sauce made with butter is among her most famous and beloved recipes, I am partial to her simple ways with fish and vegetables.

On Monday when I called my mom, I thought about asking whether she had heard the news. At 89, my mother still cooks dinner for my dad almost every night, though in the last year an arthritic knee has made the ritual increasingly difficult. I decided to keep it to myself, and as I listened to her talk about her plans for the day—physical therapy, possibly a nice dish of pasta for her and my dad—I said a silent prayer of thanks.


Note: While I never had the pleasure of meeting Marcella Hazan, I have become friendly in recent years with her son, Giuliano, a distinguished cookbook author and cooking teacher in his own right. Here’s a Q&A with Giuliano Hazan that I posted in 2012.


24 Responses to Marcella Hazan: An Appreciation

  1. Darren October 1, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Domenica, what a lovely tribute to both Ms. Hazan and your wonderful mother.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

      Thanks bro xo

  2. Ciao Chow Linda October 1, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Domenica – You have moved me to tears, especially with the ending. It’s so heartwarming to read about your love for Marcella – and your mother. They are both so special and so is this post.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      Oh my goodness, thank you Linda. Means a lot. xo

  3. Kathleen Shepard October 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Domenica, I share your sorrow as I have have relied for years on the cookbooks Marcella Hazan wrote, in addition to the Italian tomes you mention! What an eloquent tribute to Marcella and to your dear mother. I also enjoyed your interview with Giuliano Hazan, whose cookbooks I also use…..especially The Classic Pasta Cookbook.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      I have Giuliano’s classic pasta book as well. Love it. I found him to be really thoughtful. Thanks for reading.

  4. Maria Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Beautiful Domenica. Che nostalgia

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      Benvenuta sorella! Grazie per la tua risposta. Un abbraccio e ci vediamo presto xox

  5. elisa October 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    When “The Classic Italian Cookbook” was published for the first time, I knew I had found a treasure for my kitchen. Her recipes were my inspiration and they still are. I can’t count how many times I made “Budino di semolino caramellato”or “Finocchi al burro e formaggio”! I share your sad feelings and I know her books will make me think she is still with us.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      That’s the magic of cookbooks, isn’t it, Elisa. They are here to stay. I’ve so enjoyed picking up her books over the last couple of days and leafing through them, reading recipes and passages. Somehow, I don’t think an app or an e-book would inspire the same feelings of appreciation and nostalgia.

  6. lizthechef October 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    A lovely piece – thank you. I’m still deciding which of her recipes to post in a tribute coming up. What a woman! What a chef! What a teacher!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

      I’ll look forward to seeing what you post Liz. People seem to naturally gravitate toward that tomato-butter sauce, but there were so many. Thank you for reading.

  7. Mary Louise Tucker October 1, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 1, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading, Mary Louise.

  8. Fr Peter Nassetta October 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Thanks for posting Domenica. When I was first ordained and stationed at Good Shepherd, I had been cooking for a while and was learning much from the Frugal Gourmet. A parishoner, invited me to lunch and prepared a fabulous meal and told me that if I wanted to be a serious Italian cook I needed to learn from Marcella and Giuliano Bugialli. I bought their books and while Giuliano was fine, Marcella was so much more accessible. I still go to her books and to her sons books quite often (almost as much as I go to yours now!). I was planning on stuffing some mushrooms tonight, so I think I will make her Stuffed Mushrooms with Bechamel in her honor. Possa riposare in pace.

    • Domenica Marchetti October 2, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

      Thank you for this comment Fr. Nassetta. I’m glad you mentioned Giuliano Bugialli. I intended to include him, as my mother also has his books and he is among those few trusted sources of hers. I agree with your point on accessibility. What a teacher she was. It’s so moving to see the many tributes to Marcella on Facebook and around the web.

  9. Beth (OMG! Yummy) October 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Dressing is not a noun, it is a verb. I will carry that with me forever Domenica :-). Lovely post. I am awaiting my cookbook in the mail …

    • Domenica Marchetti October 4, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Beth, she had many such sayings and opinions. That’s one of the reasons her books are such a pleasure to read, not to mention cook from. Lots of wisdom in those pages. I know you’re an Ottolenghi devotee but you will love Marcella.

  10. laura (Tutti Dolci) October 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Beautiful tribute! I have long wanted to try Marcella’s tomato sauce – now I must!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 7, 2013 at 8:20 am #

      Thank you Laura. And yes, definitely try that sauce.

  11. elisa October 6, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    Marcella would have been delighted to taste your Winter Squash Panna Cotta!
    I made it yesterday using butternut squash and…oh! How delicious! I love your book!

    • Domenica Marchetti October 7, 2013 at 8:21 am #

      This is a compliment of the highest order, Elisa. Grazie di cuore. 🙂

  12. Mrs Mulberry November 17, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    Such a beautiful tribute to both Marcella and your mother. Their stories are so similar to those of my Greek family in-law here in Sydney, who migrated to Australia in the 1950s. They were all self taught, apart from one “bible” of Greek cooking. You really bought tears to my eyes with this story. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Domenica Marchetti November 17, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    Mrs Mulberry! It’s lovely to see you here on my site. Thank you for dropping by and thank you especially for your kind words. I think there are many of us who have similar immigrant experiences in our families. They enrich our lives in so many ways, especially at the table. xo

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