Marcella Hazan is the authoritative voice of Italian cooking in the English-speaking world. She was born in 1924 in Cesenatico, a small Italian fishing village, and, while surrounded by people who were excellent cooks (her mother, her father, and both her grandmothers), she never really had that much interest in cooking. As she puts it, "it was not I who chose cooking; it happened the other way around." She attended the University of Ferrara, where she was a biology major. She married Victor Hazan in 1955, and soon afterwards, the two moved to New York City.
Now, living with only her husband in her NYC appartament, Hazan found herself as the only person able to prepare the meals in her family. She found it an intimidating and daunting task, but was reassured by two things: her husband had bought her a cookbook (Talismano della Felicita, by Ada Boni), and, more importantly, she had her memories of countless excellent meals that her family had prepared for her. She found that "when I began to cook, I found I could fully recall the flavors of the dishes I had had in those years. ... the flavors themselves pointed to the commonsense ways of preparing and cooking ingredients that would reproduce those dishes." To judge her creations, she had only herself and her husband's taste buds. In time, she developed her own style of Italian cooking: most of it was a rediscovery of traditional methods, but some of them were uniquely her own.
Eventually, she believed that her recipes were worthy enough to be shared with the world, and started offering cooking classes in 1969. The success of these classes encouraged her to publish her first book, The Classic Italian Cookbook, in 1973, which was a success. From then on she continued writing cookbooks and teaching classes, both in New York and in Venice, until she and her husband retired to Florida in 1999.
Besides her superb recipes, part of what makes Hazan's cookbooks (as of 2003, she has 6 published) such successes is their cozy feel and passion for cooking. Many of the recipes include a preface describing how they were discovered, charming little vignettes featuring rural bistros or matronly relatives. And, each of her cookbooks has a forward, describing classic Italian ingredients -- from common ones, such as garlic and olive oil, to obscure ones, like pancetta and bottarga -- and how to purchase, store, and prepare them in an authentic Italian fashion. Her recipes are clear and succinct, and accessible to even cooking novices. If you're looking for an Italian cookbook, you can't go wrong with Marcella Hazan; she's the epitome of classic Italian cooking.
Essentials of Italian Cooking, Marcella Cucina, and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, all by Marcella Hazan.
All quotes from Marcella Cucina.