Simple Art of Cooking: Fondly Remembering Marcella Hazan

Braised beer.
Braised beer. Photo credit: jeffreyw/flickr

We were five students seated at a large round table, each with individual cutting boards, in the crook of Marcella Hazan’s bright bay-windowed dining area in Manhattan.

Marcella passed away in late September at her home in Longboat Key, Florida. She was 89 and surely one of our most legendary culinary educators. With her recent passing I was compelled to offer this remembrance. As an aspiring cooking teacher at the time, this caring and thoughtful woman offered this advice, “You should have the courage of your convictions.” Hazan, whose first career was in biology, was reluctant at first to teach. I recall her telling us how she met, and no doubt fed, Craig Claiborne who convinced her to offer Italian cooking classes. Marcella authored six cookbooks, and is well known for having changed the way we cook Italian in America.

There are many influences in one’s life on the path to one’s chosen career. I truly never cooked at home, and my mother’s legendary cooking and tasty food was indeed influential. I simply loved to eat and soon after I married began the serious quest to learn from my mom and so many others. How lucky I was to have known, to have been taught by, and to have the taste memories of many an outstanding dish. Through the years I gratefully acknowledged and thanked those wonderful professionals whose teachings have allowed me to develop, to grow and innovate—to become the professional in my adored field.

Marcella was the first to teach me how to prepare risotto, a dish I love to cook, often for just my husband and me. A risotto spoon, which is about 3 inches wide at the top, is worth seeking out for this remarkable dish. Preparing it was like having Marcella at my side.

Serves 4 to 5

5 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely diced celery ribs (about 2 ribs)
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves from the heart Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Extra-virgin oil and grated cheese for garnish

1. Put the broth in a saucepan and bring it to a bare simmer. Keep warm.

2. In a heavy-bottom flameproof casserole (such as Le Creuset) put in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the butter and heat to melt the butter. Add the chopped onion, bring up the heat to medium-high, and sauté until the onion is pale golden, about 4-5 minutes.  Add half the celery and all the chopped celery leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.

4. Add the rice, stirring into the mixture for about 1 minute. Ladle in 1/2 cup of the simmering broth. Stir constantly, with a wooden spoon, loosening the rice from the sides and bottom of the casserole. When the broth has completely evaporated, add another 1/2 cup. Continue to stir, adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time each time the liquid evaporates.

5. After the rice has cooked for 10 to 12 minutes, add the remaining diced celery. Then continue adding broth and stirring the mixture until the last bit of liquid is boiled away.

The rice is done when it’s tender and creamy yet firm to the bite. This could take up to 25 minutes or so. If the rice is still underdone and you have run out of broth, continue cooking with boiled water—but no liquid should remain in the pan when the rice is done. Serve immediately on warm plates with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese.

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s More Classic Italian Cooking, Knopf, 1978 


Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 beef chuck roast, about 4 pounds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion
2 narrow carrots, rinsed, trimmed and diced
1 stalk celery, rinsed, trimmed and diced
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 to 2 1/2 cups beef broth, preferably homemade
1/3 cup canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves,
2 rosemary sprigs
Kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

1. Pour vegetable oil into a sturdy 10-inch skillet to coat bottom and place over medium-high heat. When hot, slip in the roast and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes each on large sides and 2 1/2 minutes each on narrow sides. Transfer to a platter and set aside.

2. Choose an enamel over-iron casserole with a tight-fitting lid, such as Le Creuset. Put in the 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and the vegetables and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and put the well-browned meat over the vegetables. Tip the skillet, in which you browned the meat, to draw off and discard as much fat as possible. Add the wine to the skillet and adjust heat to medium high; boil for less than a minute, deglazing the bottom of the skillet then pour the juices over the meat in the casserole.

3. Pour the broth over the meat; it should come about two-thirds the way up the sides of the meat; add more of broth if it doesn’t. Add the tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Adjust heat to high, bring to a boil, and then cover the casserole. Transfer to 350° oven and braise at a slow, steady simmer for about three hours, basting the meat every 20 to 30 minutes or so. Check liquid level, adding several tablespoons warm water as necessary. The meat is cooked when tender at the tip of a knife.

4. When done, transfer meat to a cutting board and let rest. If the cooking liquid appears thin or reduced to less than 2/3 cup, place the casserole over heat and boil until liquid thickens a bit, scraping to deglaze any bits in the bottom of the pan. Taste sauce for seasoning. Slice the meat and place slightly overlapping slices on a warm platter. Pour over sauce and serve promptly.

Reprinted from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book, Harpers Magazine Press, 1973.

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