In his early days as a rising star chef, Mario Batali received a letter from Marcella Hazan after he had made risotto in a sauté pan on his television show, “Molto Mario.”
In it, the exacting and sometimes prickly Italian-born cook told Mr. Batali he was all wrong. In no uncertain terms, Mrs. Hazan told him the only proper way to make risotto was in a saucepan. He did not agree, but the two became friends anyway, sitting down over glasses of Jack Daniel’s whenever their paths crossed.
“I didn’t pay attention to Julia Child like everyone else said they did,” Mr. Batali recalled. “I paid attention to Marcella Hazan.”
Mrs. Hazan, a chain-smoking, determined former biology scholar who reluctantly moved to America and went on to teach a nation to cook Italian food, died Sunday at her home in Longboat Key, Fla. She was 89.
She had been suffering from emphysema for many years, and had severe circulation problems, her husband, Victor, said.
The impact Mrs. Hazan had on the way America cooks Italian food is impossible to overstate. Even people who have never heard of Marcella Hazan cook and shop differently because of her, and the six cookbooks she wrote, starting in 1973 with “The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating.”
“She was the first mother of Italian cooking in America,” said Lidia Bastianich, the New York restaurateur and television cooking personality.
Plenty left to read in the rest of the article, her marriage to Victor, confronting supermarkets with dead chickens, strict allegiance to the regional styles that comprise all of Italian cooking.
The Scottish side of my family is understanding when I say I’m glad I learned to cook from the Italian half of the family. You need only enjoy one of the many Mediterranean-grounded restaurants throughout Scotland to see how my northern kin have learned to enjoy Europe’s southern fare.
Sometime soon, I hope someone gets to interview Mario Batali in detail about his friendship, the dialectic of their discussions about cooking. It should offer more about food and real cooking than a season of some of the let’s pretend shows on television.