Italian cuisine has many experts, but when it comes to teaching me the art of authentic Italian home cooking I don’t want a jolly American or Food Network pretty face. What I want is the equivalent of a real Italian mama, standing petite and poised in my kitchen, sternly (yet lovingly) guiding me as I stir the sauce and knead the pasta dough. Since my mama is not Italian, and I can’t very well steal someone else’s mama, I’ve had to adopt one, and her name is Marcella. Marcella Hazan is arguably the godmother of Italian home cooking, and although she has written several wonderful cookbooks (I grew up watching my mother cook from her copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking), the one that I’ve splattered the most frequently with tomato sauce is this one:
Now, you will not find the traditional Italian-American, red sauce fare in this book; but really, do you need another recipe for chicken parmigiana? What you will find is a recipe for one of my favorite soups: tomato chickpea. I start making this delicious soup as soon as the temperature begins to dip because it’s so good that my bambinos (Bambinas? Help, Italian grammarians!) spoon it up in heaping mouthfuls. There’s also her recipe for tiny meatballs, stuffed pastas, and many, many tips on how to be a clever and resourceful cook. Her mantra of home cooking the Italiano way predates the current foodie philosophy by years, but is still surprisingly modern, yet not snobbish: avoid pre-grated cheese; use extra-virgin olive oil, don’t esteem fresh pasta over dry, don’t overuse herbs and spices (think of them as a halo, not a club).
Good advice, no?