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Ode to Marcella Hazan

The cover is gone from the first book and it is marked throughout on all of our favorite recipes. The second book is completely tattered and spotted with equal amounts of olive oil, wine and indistinguishable stains, the afterimages of the meals of our life together.
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Marcella Hazan died on Sunday, September 29 at her home in the Florida Keys. Her beloved husband, Victor, said: "She was the truest and the best, and so was her food." When I heard that she had died, I felt like I'd lost a family member. Julia Child called Marcella my mentor in all things Italian, and I felt the same way.

I first discovered Marcella's cookbooks, The Classic Italian Cookbook, and More Classic Italian Cooking, when I was a young filmmaker at Yale Art School living with John, a fellow student and filmmaker, who became my husband. I looked at those books this week and it's like reading the journal I never wrote of our years together as a couple, and then a family. The cover is gone from the first book and it is marked throughout on all of our favorite recipes. The second book is completely tattered and spotted with equal amounts of olive oil, wine and indistinguishable stains, the afterimages of the meals of our life together.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Federico Fellini

I see that back then, I made stuffed calamari and rolled meats -- complicated recipes that I haven't made since our twin daughters were born 26 years ago. Still, simplicity is always the hallmark of Marcella's cooking. The traditional Roman garlic and oil sauce which was also a midnight family favorite of my father's exemplified this simplicity of ingredients combined with rich flavor. And Marcella's Roast Chicken with Lemons became our go-to recipe for chicken. We turned to it for every night family meals, Sunday dinners and special guests for 30 years. It couldn't be simpler, easier or more delicious. Just stuff a chicken with two lemons that are softened and pierced with holes. Close the chicken with string and then roast it. I can only tell you that this roasted chicken, dripping with the warm lemon juices cooked inside and seeping through the bird, is to-die-for tasty and moist.

Today, we use the revised Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that Marcella and her husband, Victor, her translator and excellent collaborator, brought out in 1992 with Knopf. It is a compilation of the first two books in a revised, updated and expanded version that took them three years to finish. While I have all six of Marcella's books, this revised edition of the first two has become my Bible. When I want to remember just the best way to make zucchini blossoms, I turn to Marcella to re-discover that, of course, the batter could not be more simple: flour and water. But you have to do it the way Marcella explains to you. I always feel like she's there in the kitchen with me as I cook Marcella's Pasta with White Clam Sauce, Seafood Salad for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, fava beans, sardines and Cauliflower Sauce with Chile Peppers. When my brother showed up with pounds of bluefish, we turned to Marcella and made Bluefish baked with potatoes. We have many memories of New Year's Eve with Marcella's Ossobuco Milanese and Risotto Milanese. The ossobuco may take all day, but it melts in your mouth. And the risotto involves a couple of hours of stirring. But does anything taste that good? We can all thank Victor for sharing Marcella and her cooking for him and his son with all of us. Their family's culinary tales have enriched all of ours. And her voice speaks to all ages. From my very critical brothers to young friends in their twenties, we all turn to Marcella for our Italian food guidance.

"Why not make it simple?" -Marcella Hazan

Simplicity and purity of ingredients was always the keynote through Marcella's kitchen. We fell in love with Marcella's Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Hot Pepper many years ago. My daughters love the nutty flavor of the toasted bread crumbs that reminds them of a sauce that my cousins Marta and Fredo made for us in Rome. This sauce so captivated our young cousin Eliot when he was 10 years old that he decided to make it for his class assignment. The ingredients are few: olive oil, garlic, parsley, hot pepper and scallops. Then, you toss it with the toasted bread crumbs at the end. Eliot loved the bright, vibrant green of the Italian parsley next to the vivid red pepper flakes. He liked the color contrast so much that he went pretty heavy on the red pepper flakes. His family staunchly consumed a bowl, tearing slightly and coughing from the fiery mix.

This recipe, with a little less red pepper, perhaps, is still one of our favorite guest dinners. It's easy, rich and delicious. Make a salad. Have an appetizer before it and some fruit at the end, and you're good to go! So, let us remember Marcella, and her credo that simple food has only one objective: to taste good. Our lives are connected in the most important way. Marcella will always be with us in the family meals that she continues to inspire all of us to create, and the joy we have celebrating food and family together thanks to her. Grazie tante per tutto, Marcella! We'll see you in your cookbooks!