Marcella Hazan: “The Classic Italian Cookbook”

We are incredibly lucky that modern technology( the internet) has given us access to millions of recipes on tens of thousands of cooking web sites. From The Food Network to The New York Times (sorry, I won’t link to them) to the newest cooking blog, er, iamnotachef, we can get it all. But being able to read 1,500 recipes for Ossobucco Alla Milanese doesn’t help, it hurts. Trying to wade through all of that information; sifting through the subtle, and not so subtle, differences between even the great recipes can be maddening. And at $14/lb. for veal shanks, I would prefer to get it right the first time.

That’s where great cook books come in. And not by great chefs (usually), but by accomplished cooks who can also write. I am being a bit provocative, but there are probably more great chefs than great cook books. Luckily, Marcella Hazan is one of those lucky few who can cook up a storm and then write about it. Her food is simple yet elegant Italian cooking. Nothing jarring or cutting edge. Everything is good. But it is her prose that sets her apart. Here, from her introduction, is a comment about pepper.

“Ready-ground pepper is one of those modern conveniences that  keep giving progress a bad name. Why it exists I do not know. It is certainly no more work to twist a pepper mill than to brandish a shaker, but there is an enormous difference in the result.”

And her recipes are just as good. They aren’t complicated, and when some technique is required, she won’t surprise you halfway through the recipe. She is an unabashed lover of Italian food and conveys that feeling in every one of her 250 dishes. It is a wonderful book for beginners looking for an excellent primer, as well as for more skilled cooks looking for some classic Italian recipes. But it is just as good on the bedstand as a wonderful read.

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