Famous Italian chef Marcella Hazan's last teachings may very well be considered her most important. Thanks to husband, Victor Hazan, the culinary world has been granted one final window into the knowledge Marcella so loved to share through their latest collaboration, Ingredienti.
It is a beautiful book–in both design and language–that clearly conveys the foundation for Marcella's simple way of constructing authentic Italian cuisine. Its focus: the raw ingredients central to Marcella's dishes. Its style: that of an easy-to-read novel.
This was not Victor's first time playing a vital role in the composition of Marcella's beloved culinary guides, but in a bittersweet tribute to his late wife, it will be the last. Although accustomed to translating Marcella's notes to English on each of the extraordinary cookbooks she produced in her lifetime, Ingredienti required Victor to draw from 60 years of marriage, meals and conversation to not just translate but complete Marcella's final written work. We can't thank him enough for his efforts!
A WORD WITH VICTOR HAZAN
On the motivation behind Ingredienti… Marcella felt that people did not pay enough attention to taste. And so she said, "Well, the last thing I want to do is to describe ingredients so people reading my book will understand the character of the ingredients, describing them as characters in a novel or in a story." So, if you read through the book–from asparagus to zucchini–and you read about prosciutto and pancetta and factory-made pasta and canned tomatoes, she wanted to affix in your mind what that particular ingredient could contribute.
On using fewer ingredients… To Marcella, taste depended on two or three ingredients chosen well and used with respect so that those ingredients were not swallowed up in the general blend. It's not because you want to skimp. It's not because you want to make a dish that takes very little preparation. It's because you want the taste of that dish to be very clear. To be very forceful. And to be very sharply focused instead of diff use.
On his favorite part of the book… I don't have a favorite part, you know. If I had had an unfavorite part it wouldn't be in the book. This was Marcella's project. It is something she wanted to do. In fact, I thought it was a waste of her time. She wasn't well. Life is unpredictable. If she could have lasted another two or three years, perhaps, but she didn't and this was a sacrifice of her living days. But she wanted to do it.
On his own contributions to the book... Our most substantial subject of conversation was food. So, there's very little on food that we didn't talk about. It was not all that difficult for me to fill in the things I would assume she would have written herself. And so I did it in her voice, more or less. So this would sound and look like one of her books–which, in fact, it is.
On translating Marcella's last notes… In the beginning it was very hard because handwriting is very intimate. Very much revealing of someone's presence. It was very difficult opening up those notebooks and getting into her work.
On how Marcella would have felt about Victor finishing the book... She would have been very, very happy because this book meant a lot to her. This was the summation of a very long career, a very successful and broadly celebrated career.
On cooking in Marcella's absence... I am much more limited than Marcella. Marcella could cook anything. She could cook anything better than anybody. I can cook fish pretty well, and pasta. I can make good sauces for pasta and vegetables.
On the availability of good ingredients... Unfortunately, a lot of the ingredients that are generally available, especially in supermarkets, are just not good. They may even be fresh but they are not good. They are not carefully cultivated.
On Marcella's success and influence... Her books are selling as strongly now as they were 40 years ago. Sometimes more. If someone wants to cook well in the Italian style, they cannot fail to pick up one of Marcella's books. The range is much more pervasive than people realize. Her influence was extraordinary, however, she never gloated, she never boasted about it.
On what is next for Victor... You know, I am 88. I had a birthday the other day, so there is a limited amount of time in which to do anything. So I don't know. If I were very foolish I would start writing another book but I don't feel quite that foolish yet.
"Marcella wrote in Italian, fast, without hesitation, leaving no space between lines, filling several legalsized notebooks with her manuscript."
–Victor Hazan, from the book Ingredienti