To the end, Marcella Hazan kept teaching us.
Cooks around the world were planning meals Sunday night in honor of the icon of Italian food, after hearing that she had died at her home in Longboat Key, Fla. They wrote online about plans for “that tomato sauce” and for added salt and for roast chicken with two lemons. They gave thanks for the al dente pasta and the fresh vegetables and for Hazan’s entire no-nonsense, instructive, quality approach to home cooking.
“Marcella, my incomparable companion, died this morning a few steps away from her bed. She was the truest and the best, and so was her food,” wrote Hazan’s husband of more than a half-century, Victor, on her Facebook page.
Her legacy as an authority on Italian cooking, and as the woman who brought it to American tables, is assured in her recipes. (Thanks to those “perfect” cookbooks, wrote one commenter, “she’ll be bossing me around in my kitchen until the end of my days.”)
She had a reputation as an intimidating presence. The time we shared a meal in Seattle, though, and in occasional correspondences since, she was blunt, smart, opinionated and gracious. She didn’t pull punches. She never felt she was too old or too set in her ways to learn something new.
She was also a startlingly generous and involved presence online, where writers might discover to their shock that the ‘Marcella Hazan’ offering an opinion on their recipe post was, indeed, *the* Marcella Hazan. She answered queries, but seemed more interested in engaging in discussions and debates about cooking and food. One of her final posts, in typical form, was a spirited discussion last week with Seattle food writer Jeanne Sauvage on the merits (or lack thereof) of home pasta-extruding machines. It turned into a meditation on why people do cook.
“My primary motivation in the kitchen is to make food that is genuine and tastes as good as it can. The taste of food is one of the deepest sources of happiness. It’s a serious commitment to quality, it’s not a hobby, it’s not a plaything, it’s not a “look what I’ve made” moment…” Hazan wrote.
I called Hazan the “queen of social media” in a 2011 Christian Science Monitor interview, after asking if the “Marcella Hazan” commenting on my blog could really be the 87-year-old legend who I thought was living in semi-retirement. (“Yes, my dear,” she answered.) When I asked why she joined Facebook, she answered that honestly, she hadn’t known what to expect. “I even thought I might drop out of it in short order. But it very quickly developed into something I have always deeply enjoyed and that has been missing from my life since I retired from teaching, direct contact with people who cook and moreover with those who like to cook from my books.”
Her literary posts became less common in recent months, and she wrote in June that she had been low on energy, though “I cook regularly, more so as we no longer dine out. It is interesting how alive the old dishes are and I hope some time to discuss that topic with anyone who might be listening.” She had also just shot a PBS show cooking alongside April Bloomfield.
Her real farewell might have come at the last holiday season, where she wrote that “While I still have access to this platform, I am using it to let you know how grateful I have been for your friendship, for the warmth with which you have always addressed me, for the appreciation of la buona cucina that you have so often expressed…
“(I)t has felt like a very long life. Allow me to wish you, one more time at least, a very happy Christmas, and many happy times making and sharing good food. My love to you all.”
Here’s a link to her famous, “genius” tomato sauce with onions and butter.