Serious Eats: Recipes

Classic Cookbooks: Marcella Hazan's Homemade Tagliatelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce

Marcella Hazan, who introduced an America familiar with red sauce joints to true Italian food, is a teacher and writer with whom every home cook should spend some time. She was born in Italy but immigrated to the United States as a bride. Though she had never cooked before, she had to learn to feed her husband (hey, it was the 1950s), and luckily for all of us it turned out that she was no slouch. She began teaching Italian cooking in New York City and eventually published several books of her beautifully simple, authentic recipes.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking combines two books Hazan published in the 1970s. The food here is, for the most part, straightforward and homey, and the instructions are detailed and clear. I often turn to this book when I’m not sure what to do with a vegetable or need new ideas for saucing pasta, but there are lots of big meaty dishes as well.

Hazan’s lucid prose and stern instructions always charm me, as does the note of exasperation she sometimes cannot help but show (in a salad, “Garlic can be exciting when you turn to it sporadically, on impulse, but on a regular basis, it is tiresome,” and instant polenta—don’t even ask). Like all good recipe writers, she urges you to watch and taste and smell and listen, to pay close attention to your ingredients and how you use them instead of working through the recipe automatically. Indeed, her instructions for dressing a salad—extra virgin olive oil, salt, and wine vinegar only, please—fill me with anxiety and make me feel wholly inadequate as a cook. But it’s good to have something to aim for, and the food you turn out from this book will be heartily appreciated even before you achieve salad supertaster status.

“There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolgnese ragù with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle,” Hazan writes; I put this statement to the test on a frigid Sunday afternoon and now can verify it without hesitation. Making fresh pasta at home is fun and satisfying; it’s also easy, if you have a little hand-cranked pasta machine like mine. She provides instructions for making sheets of pasta with a rolling pin, too, but I’ve never been brave enough to get into that delicate business. These recipes are adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking; they make twice as much sauce as you will need for this quantity of pasta, so either double the pasta recipe or freeze half of the sauce for another time.

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