A Final, Loving Testament to a Cook's Life in Italy

There's a small photograph in her gorgeous new cookbook, MARCELLA CUCINA, that is a favorite of Marcella Hazan's. "It is a picture of Victor and me, in the courtyard of our house in Venice," the author says, "and we are returning from the market together. That is our life, everyday -- and the book is filled with our life."
        Indeed, the image perfectly illustrates the savory substance and charming personal spirit of the volume, the fifth and last cookbook from Marcella (as she is known to her adoring fans), the legendary teacher and authority on Italian cooking. Like the market basket that Marcella and her husband Victor Hazan are wheeling toward their doorway, MARCELLA CUCINA is filled with the freshest and most flavorful foods the couple could find. The nearly 200 recipes -- her first all-new collection in over a decade -- are their personal delights, discovered in all regions of Italy, carefully selected from the thousands that Marcella has cooked and tested at home.
        So, too, the intimate bond between Marcella and Victor -- her writing collaborator and head taster for more than forty years -- is unmistakable in the photo, and the entire book is a testament to the depth and richness of their partnership. In its engaging essays and recipe headnotes are revealed the pleasures of a culinary life shared intimately. There are stories of the discovery of wonderful dishes in beautiful and unexpected places, the challenge of cooking simple food perfectly at home, and the remembered enjoyment of many marvelous flavors, across the years of a long and creative marriage.
        "MARCELLA CUCINA is a very personal book," Marcella says, and there is special significance for her and Victor in documenting, in pictures and recipes, an epoch in their lives that is about to end. The Hazans have announced that in 1998 they will end the famous week-long master cooking classes which they have conducted in their Venice apartment for almost 20 years.
        The full flavor of the Hazans' life in Venice, however, will endure for readers of MARCELLA CUCINA, in recipe, text and illustrations. Even the placement of the small courtyard photo captures an important moment in their creative process, as the couple pause between marketing and cooking. Thus the photo is displayed, just before the actual recipes start, at the end of a colorful essay with which the book opens -- Al Mercato, "To the Market." In this introductory excursion, Marcella emphasizes a fundamental principle of all her teaching and writing: that great Italian meals (and, in fact, all good cooking) begins in the marketplace, with the selection of the freshest, tastiest ingredients available -- locally grown if possible. Here, this lesson is detailed in a head-spinning (and fabulously photographed) tour through Rialto and the ever-changing seasonal bounty of its produce and fish stalls.
        With the basket filled with the market's best, MARCELLA CUCINA heads for the kitchen: It is time to cook. The recipes in this ultimate collection have come to Marcella's kitchen from all over Italy, from Sardinia to The Marches, from Sicily to Friuli, from Apulia to the Piedmont. They are from different eras in her life, from her childhood table in Emilia-Romagna, from a visit to Victor's bachelor apartment outside Florence 45 years ago, and from recent sojourns on Long Island, cooking Atlantic seafood. They come from celebrated chefs in Venice, from dinner at a neighbor's, from chance encounters with a stranger in a cheese shop, from gala dinners at famous wineries and a spur-of-the moment lunch at an unknown Roman trattoria. There are recipes for many courses and ingredients, presented in 10 chapters: appetizers, soups, pasta, risotto and polenta, fish, poultry and rabbit, meats, vegetables, salads and desserts.
        They are all stamped with the unmistakable, authoritative character of Marcella Hazan. Whatever the provenance of the recipe, each has been, she writes, "recast in the foundry of my senses." Each has been cooked many times, in Venice and in American kitchens. Each is presented with headnotes, instructions -- and in many instances, with photos -- that provide the reader not only with the techniques needed to reproduce the dish, but clues to the taste considerations that have guided Marcella in perfecting it. Simple or complex, each dish is made only with ingredients that are essential, embodying her long-held belief that "what you keep out is as significant as what you put in." And, in the end, each of the recipes has passed Marcella's most stringent tests: it tastes good to her, it pleases Victor, and it speaks to them both "with a convincing Italian accent."
        Marcella Hazan's work has influenced millions of home cooks and built the popularity of authentic Italian cooking, in America and other countries, for two decades.

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