Food writer and teacher;
Born: April 15, 1924; Died: September 29, 2013.
Marcella Hazan, who has died aged 89, was the doyenne of Italian food writers, the first of whose six outstanding books should be in every household that treats cooking seriously. The others should be there also, of course, but the 414 pages of The Classic Italian Cookbook, published in 1973, were what got her going and remain as fundamentally essential as ever.
Though she spent most of her adult life in the US, giving cookery classes in her apartment to combat initial loneliness, she was born in the prosperous, food-obsessed Emilia Romagna region of Italy, graduating from Ferrara University with a doctorate in Natural Sciences and Biology.
When she met an Italian American called Victor Hazan, who ran a fur business in New York but was in Italy seeking his origins, she not only married him but settled with him in New York, where they became a lifelong double act - she writing her books in Italian (her English was never quite good enough), he assembling them and translating them as well as writing books of his own about Italian wine, on which he became an expert.
Like Elizabeth David in England, she found that the American public had much to learn about Mediterranean cooking and bullied her readers into doing things the Italian way. But though she was forthright she was never pretentious. Recipes, she said, were about what you should leave out as well as what you should put in. Her most famous recipe, for tomato sauce, was simplicity itself - a tin of whole peeled Italian tomatoes, five tablespoons of unsalted butter, an onion and salt, simmered for 45 minutes rather than a mere 20, the tinned Italian tomatoes being invariably preferable to unripe supermarket ones.
Yet simplicity did not necessarily mean ease. On the subject of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese she was resolute. Freshly-grated, she insisted, meant just what it said. Under no circumstances should it be replaced by ready-grated cheese sold in jars or packets. Even if this were of good quality - "which it is not" - it would have lost all its flavour before reaching the market, and would be of no interest in Italian cooking.
Nor, she added, should cottage cheese be substituted for ricotta. Making your own ricotta required only milk, salt, lemon juice and a muslin bag. What mattered, in the end, was the flavour intention of a dish and its ability to nourish and please, rather than dazzle. Though she had no time for supermarkets, she had no time for celebrity chefs either.
Her first book was true to its subtitle, The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating (her husband being her most devoted eater). It was an art - deplored for its time-consumption by Mrs Thatcher - that was "abetted by the custom of shutting down the whole country at midday for two hours or more".
Though her last books, including Marcella Cucina (1997) and Marcella Says (2004), were published in glossier, more sumptuous formats, they delivered her lifelong message as strongly as ever. She could be dogmatic, even in the beautifully produced Marcella Says, as in her reply to the frequently asked question: "How long do you cook it?" The curt answer was: "Until it is done."
In later life she and her husband retired to Florida, where she encountered the same old problems - outsize but flavourless vegetables and fruit - which she had first met in New York, but she went on cooking for him twice a day and observing his face when he took his first bite. She is survived by him and by their son Giuliano, who runs a cookery school in Verona.
At this point I should add a small footnote saying that my youngest daughter - Marcella, aged 10 - was named after her.
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