If you’re at all an aficionado of cooking, you know that the grand doyenne of Italian cooking passed away this week. I will admit, freely, that I don’t page through Marcella Hazan for inspiration the way that I flip through Julia Child; I find her (husband’s) translation too authoritative & cranky, and while I appreciate clear direction in a cookbook, there was always something about the tone of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that seemed to promise that what befell the denizens of Dante’s Inferno would only be the start if I dared deviate from the steps laid out, so painstaking, therein. If I want some inspiration for something Italian-ish to cook for supper, I’ve been far more likely to pull out Elizabeth David, whose firm but friendly writing and combinations of flavors always appeal. Plus, I can never disagree with a woman who tells you to serve prosciutto with the very best butter.
Still– back to Marcella (though I think she would prefer me to call her Signora Hazan). The fact still remains; crank though she might have been, and absolute snob for nothing but the best imported Italian what-have-you (and yes, I understand, the insistence was valid, whereas the book was written back in the day before concepts like locavore, heirloom seeds/breeds, and CSA meat/vegetable/aquaculture share were ever a glint in any hipster foodie wordsmith’s eye), Marcella’s books still were and are the Bible when I was looking for the recipe to rule them all or to tell me which amalgam of flavors was most likely truest & best. I look at Barbara Lynch, at Susan Hermann Loomis, at Elizabeth David, at Patricia Wells and a half dozen more, but Marcella’s recipes distill the essentials, just like she says on the cover. And for all that the recipes can sometimes be time-consuming, they’re always worth it.
Her pork loin braised in milk (Essentials, 417-418) should never be attempted when the mercury hovers over 80F, but any other time, please– set aside the 6-8 hours and make it. It ain’t just stunt cooking, that stuff is worth it. And her tomato sauce with onion and butter (Essentials, 152) will make you wonder– why bother with anything else? Vodka sauce? Who needs it? Take a stick blender to this.) Her spinach soup with rice (Essentials, 89, 90-2) can be varied with sausage or baby kale or lacinato kale or not and will freeze like nobody’s business, just the thing to warm you.
So tonight, I cooked a dinner to bid Marcella mille grazie, and buonanotte. Even if she was cranky. I guess I’d be cranky if people were screwing up good food, as well.
Backyard beefsteak tomato salad. Salt. Pepper. Real balsamic. Real Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. And back porch chopped italian parsley and basil. It’s not a recipe, but it is fresh. I think Marcella would have approved.
Veal scallopini, dredged in toasted hazelnut flour, salt and pepper, browned in butter and olive oil and set aside, then the brown nutty juices reduced with a balsamic vinegar and chicken stock/juice of 1 lemon substitute for the wine called for in this Molly O’Neill adaptation of a Marcella recipe from “Marcella’s Italian Kitchen.”
Broccolini, cooked until tender all the way through, then sauteed quickly in its saucepan with the rest of the fresh-chopped parsley, basil, olives, red pepper flakes and garlic called for in this adaptation of a sauce for oriecchette , which is a souped-up version of the Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce (Essentials, 173) that Marcella recommends for oriecchette. I skipped the grated cheese, as well as the anchovies, and let the olives speak for themselves.
And finally, last but not least, maybe Marcella’s most famous dessert, and a cake that deserves to be up there with Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba.
Behold, the Walnut Cake (Essentials, 588-9).
This needs a springform, and I futzed the 8-inch requirement and used a 9-inch, cooking the recipe 10 minutes less. I also used Bob’s Gluten-Free flour blend in place of the 1 cup of regular flour the recipe calls for. Some day, I’ll use all walnuts instead to make up the volume.
It’s a light, fragile cake, musky and fragrant with rum and lemon zest, tender and nutty. (She has you toast the raw walnuts. Do it. It makes a difference versus buying pre-roasted nuts.)
It’s awesome, warm, still a little soft in the middle, with some creme fraiche stirred into whipped cream. (Somehow, I don’t think Marcella would have minded the creme fraiche all that much.)
(And also, for those playing at home, with the exception of the tomatoes and the fresh herbs, I did buy all the ingredients, especially the perfect, tender, excellent and humanely-raised veal, at my lovely employer, whose name rhymes with Shmole Foods.)