If you don’t know Marcella Hazan, it’s time to be introduced. Though the 89-year-old goddess of Italian cooking died several years ago, her work lives on in her many cookbooks. Hazan was to Italian cooking what Julia Child was to French cuisine. Her cookbooks, written in Italian and translated by her husband, brought Northern Italian cuisine to American kitchens. In a New Yorker article at the time of her death, David Sipress describes his kitchen idol as “a short, compact lady, a tough biscotti with a raspy voice, who didn’t suffer fools gladly and had a surprising preference for Jack Daniels over a glass of wine. But in her books her voice was always warm and encouraging.”
Hazan is revered on the Internet for her classic, 3-ingredient tomato sauce made with onions and butter. It’s incredibly simple and involves no chopping.
You put a large can of good tomatoes (San Marzano or Muir Glen Organic) in a pot, add a medium yellow onion cut in half (later removed), and 5 tablespoons of butter. (I couldn’t help but recall what Julia Child said, “With enough butter, you can make anything taste good.”) Simmer all together for 45-60 minutes.
That’s it–though some Internet cooks have attempted to further beef up the dish by using fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, pepper, red pepper flakes, and/or sugar.
Another of the recipes of this “uncomplicated chef” features a chicken roasted with two lemons in its cavity. In addition to giving us a bevvy of authentic Italian recipes, Hazan, (pronounced HAYZ-un), left us a number of cooking “commandments” in her seven bestselling cookbooks. Here are some of her choice warnings.
Hazan’s Cooking Commandments
- Dress salads with no other oil than olive—and use the best.
- Don’t cover your tomato sauce or it will be “bland and steamed.”
- Use no Parmesan that is not Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Never buy grated cheese of any kind; grate cheese fresh when ready to use.
- Do not esteem so-called fresh pasta more than the dry, factory-made variety.
- Unless you are on a medically prescribed diet, do not shrink from using what salt is necessary to draw out the flavor of food.
- Choose vegetables that are in season and plan the entire meal around them.
- When sautéing onions, put them in a cold pan with oil and heat them gently.
- Olive oil isn’t always the best choice for frying; in delicately flavored dishes, a combination of butter and vegetable oil should be used.
- Garlic presses should be avoided at all costs.
Several of Hazan’s pasta dishes are featured here. Mark Bittman interprets her un-iced Orange Cake here. Ken Gilberg, the mushroom man, put me onto her simple spinach here. While Hazan’s recipes are brilliantly simple, the directions are often dogmatic. She’s credited with encouraging the use of balsamic vinegar in American kitchens, though she later criticized those who overuse it in cooking.
Below is Hazan’s easy, but much revered tomato sauce. But when I cook it, I venture to dabble with the ingredients. I found that that when I lessen the butter and add a bit of black pepper, red pepper flakes and sugar, I like it even better.
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Ingredients: (Serves 6)
- 2 lbs. fresh, ripe tomatoes (blanched, skinned and chopped), or one 28 oz. can Italian tomatoes (San Marzano or Muir Glen Organic), cut up, with their juice
- 5 Tbs. butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
- Salt to taste
Put tomatoes in saucepan and add the butter, onion, and salt. Cook, uncovered, on low, maintaining a steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until sauce thickens and fat floats free from the tomato.
Stir occasionally, mashing up large pieces of tomato using the back of a wooden spoon.
Season with salt. Before tossing with pasta, you may remove the onion (as Hazan does), or chop and leave it in or add using food processor. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.