Cooking Still Matters

by Marcella Hazan on June 27, 2011

When I was cooking only for my husband, and subsequently for him and my growing son, I had no doubt about what would taste good to us and what would be the simplest way for me to produce it. I embarked on a professional food career with the same conviction. I understood cooking to be a set of simple techniques applied with respect for the basic components of a meal freshly made from good, everyday ingredients. Cooking was the craft, I thought, practiced at home to bring good food and happiness to the family table. The classes I taught and cookbooks I wrote were intended as demonstrations of those principles. Cooking was from always, cooking was forever, I thought.

A time came, however, that I began to wonder whether cooking was something else. Was it entertainment for television, was it the arbitrary creation of attention-seeking and media-ennobled chefs, did it emerge from an expensive collection of science-fiction gadgetry, was it the product of a laboratory or of a kitchen, was it foaming cauliflower or spherical tomatoes, was it a two-and-a-half hour process for frying a skilletful of potatoes? Could it be that the subject of my teaching and writing was becoming an anachronism, headed for the waste bin of history?

 

It was almost a year and a half ago that I began to bring up the posts of a group calling itself Pomodori e Vino. There were nine of them, seven women, two men, scattered in the US from Alabama, Florida, Missouri, and California, to Alaska. Two lived in Canada. They had proposed to cook their way in rotation through all the recipes, more than 400, in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a book some of whose contents I had set down 40 years ago.

 

Every day for sixty-two weeks my Pomodori, as I began to refer to them, cooked a dish from Essentials without skipping a day or a recipe. There were no failures, although they experienced different degrees of pleasure. If you are brought up in North America, you may have a cultural impediment to the free enjoyment of lamb kidneys. Every post provided a candid commentary on the production of the recipe of the day, on its provisioning, on the sometimes unfamiliar techniques and methods it required, on the stages of its preparation, and on the final result. Photographs lucidly accompanied the steps, from assemblage of ingredients to presentation at table.

 

If you have ever feared, as I have, that the practice of good, simple cooking was going out of style, go to the Pomodori e Vino blog, and retrace as many of its posts as you can make time for. No comparable collection of recipes has ever before been brought so fully to life, so respectfully executed, so minutely illustrated, and so usefully commented by such a collection of genuine cooks. As I followed my Pomodori each day that they cooked from a page of that tome of mine, I was comforted to find that cooking, as I had understood and practiced it, had endured and still mattered.

 

Comments on this entry are closed.

Alan Campbell October 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm

I routinely cook from about 80 cookbooks, including normal standard ones such as those from Julia Child, the NY Times, Clifford Wright, Coleman Andrews, etc. I have 6 cookbooks from Marcella Hazan (I think that is all of them).

There is no doubt in my mind that the single best cookbook in the world is Mrs. Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This is so for several reasons: first, the essential nature of Italian food which emphasizes simplicity and economy and the true nature of the ingredients; second, the recipes themselves– I think of Mrs. Hazan as a kind of ethnographer of Italian recipes; third, Mrs. Hazan’s (or maybe Victor’s) exceedingly clear directions (is this because of her scientific training?); fourth, because the Essentials book is a compendium of the first two of her books, plus some other wonderful recipes. The only way the Essentials book could be better would be if the Menu Suggestions from the first two books would have been included.

My sister has said “Marcella Hazan changed my life.” Mrs. Hazan certainly changed MY food life.

Peter Bex August 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Two decades ago, my wife and I spent five days at Victor and Marcella’s Venice palazzo learning to cook. To this day, our Venice experience has been the most profound in guiding us in our beloved Italian cooking, thanks to Marcella’s “taste memory” training, for our friends and family.

Here’s to you Marcella, Victor, and Giuliano, the both of us hope you are well.

All the best,

Peter

Edwina Cottino July 16, 2011 at 9:03 am

Buongiorno Marcella,
When I met my now Italian husband 17 years ago, I knew nothing about REAL Italian cooking. I have always cooked from scratch and have always believed in using good ingredients. I bought your Classic Italian Cookbook since I knew that if I was to make a real impression on him I had to know how to cook real Italian food. Your book was and is my Bible ( of course I now also have The Second Classic Italian Cookbook) and whenever anyone asks where I learned to cook like an Italian, I always answer,” from Marcella Hazan”. Now days my cooking is almost all Italian either the way I learned from you or now also from my mother-in-law. Through my blog I try to get people to understand that healthy, beautiful cooking is a simple pleasure that everyone should participate in. Thank you for your teachings.

Laurel Dalzell June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

Thank you for this post. I am a young mom who loves to cook and I have the same philosophy of cooking. I love to make homemade and handmade items, fresh pasta, and sauces from scratch, and I absolutely love Italian cooking. I love the pleasure I get from creating a dish from scratch and watching the enjoyment on my little one’s and husband’s faces. They love good food! We are all spoiled :)
I must obtain copies of your books. My mom and I love Italian cookbooks, and I look forward to perusing your’s.

Kit June 28, 2011 at 3:33 am

Home-cooking is the heart and soul of food! I’ve had three of your books (UK editions) for more than twenty years ever since I first went to Italy and enjoyed the food there. The great thing about your recipes is that they really work and really taste good without any fiddly cheffiness. Several recipes have made it into my regular family repertoire and I’ll be teaching them to my girls soon now they are getting old enough to learn to cook properly.
When Julia and Julia came out I always thought that I would have chosen one of your books to cook through, if I ever had the dedication.. .so I’m glad that those bloggers have done it for me!

Krista June 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Homey cooking is absolutely precious to me – the stuff that makes up a lifetime of memories and tradition, the thing that binds together the oh-so-different members of my family. I’m so glad it’s still alive AND thriving. :-)

Rosa June 27, 2011 at 9:06 am

I believe that cooking has nothing to do with spotlight, celebrity or science-fiction! Pomodori E Vino is truly a magnificent site. Dishes don’t have to be extremely complicated to create in order to taste good and make people dream.

Cheers,

Rosa

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