Marcella Says… – Marcella Hazan

In her latest cookbook Marcella Hazan attempts to capture the spirit of her famous Italian cooking classes, which began modestly in her New York City apartment during the 1960s and evolved into widely sought out Master Classes in her Venice home. With no-nonsense advice on all aspects of Italian home cooking, Marcella Says… successfully transports the reader into the author’s kitchen, and earns a spot on the bookshelf of anyone interested in preparing authentic Italian cuisine at home.

What distinguishes this volume from your typical cookbook is the first chapter, At Master Class. In this part of the book Hazan writes in a conversational style on how to do everything from cooking a pasta sauce to recycling leftovers. At the heart of it all is the concept of insaporire, a word that the author says has no neat equivalent among English cooking terms. “A critical step in the making of most Italian dishes,” she writes. “Insaporire is what you do to draw out and develop the flavor of a single or several ingredients.”

In addition to educating the reader on insaporire as well as techniques for such tasks as making homemade pasta and handling and prepping vegetables, the opening chapter is filled with indispensable tips for the home cook. One of my favorites, and something my Italian mother has done for years, is freezing homemade broth in ice cube trays and then storing the cubes in freezer bags. That way whenever you need broth for a recipe you can grab a few cubes from the freezer, and not resort to canned broth from the supermarket.

The remaining chapters of the book follow the familiar structure of categorized recipes, chicken, veal, beef, etc. After authoring several definitive volumes of Italian recipes such as Marcella Cucina, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking one would think that Hazan wouldn’t have that many more recipes up her sleeve, but she was able to conjure up 120 new ones for this volume. Sprinkled throughout the recipes little tips in boldface prefaced by “Marcella Says” give the feeling that the author is standing right beside you in the kitchen helping you along: “Don’t let the sauté become very dark. Don’t undercook mushrooms or they won’t be tasty,” she advises.

Rather than being developed while living in Italy, Hazan wrote this book from her current residence, a “midwestern enclave of a small metropolitan area in southwest Florida.” As a result, instead of having access to Italian street markets for her produce she had to shop in the local supermarket just like you and me. So although some of the ingredients may sound distinctly American, the techniques that Hazan espouses makes the dishes as authentically Italian those presented in her other books. Many of the recipes will definitely find an enduring place in your repertoire, “Late Night Pasta Sauce with Pine Nuts and Raisins” and “Lamb Chops Calabria Style with Tomatoes, Peppers and Olives” are two that jump to mind immediately

Hazan’s writing style is simple, and her voice authoritative. Although she is sometimes too authoritative—there seems to be no room in Hazan’s world for any way of doing things but her own—after a 40 year career of bringing what she calls “Simple, True Italian Cooking” to the world, a teacher as accomplished as Marcella Hazan has earned the right to be opinionated.

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2004
Hardcover: 400 pages