I suppose it must have been about a quarter a century ago that I acquired the British habit of reading cookery books in bed as if they were novels and now, among my many cookery books from many nations, there are what I call the "one-offs" - good for a recipe or two but not otherwise reliable - and there are the stalwarts, the books written by cooks who never let you down.
From my own country there is the "sainted Delia", often my starting point for a basic recipe or technique and a goddess, long before Nigella, for converting measurements. Delia is good to watch, too, if you can stand her constant mispronunciation of foreign terms but she went down in my estimation when she started cooking in a conservatory three times the size of most people's homes and up again the day she appeared, apparently drunk, on a football pitch. Well, wouldn't you want to let go after all those years of precision?
Then there are the entertaining cooks, like "cheeky chappie" Jamie Oliver, the "Two Fat Ladies", the late, flamboyant Keith Floyd, and the glamorous, exuberant Nigella. The prose of all these writers is a delight to read and their recipes invariably work, too. There are, though, cookery writers who manage to weave among their recipes not only their own stories but those of an entire culture and among these I would count Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden and Marcella Hazan, who died, at the age of 89, yesterday.
If I learnt French cooking from Elizabeth David and my beloved Larousse Gastronomique, it was from Marcella that I learned the basic techniques of Italian cooking and I will always be grateful to her for "writing me through" [because it felt as if she was talking me through] the way to cook a veal escalope as the Italians do [not as easy as you may think ] and for teaching me not to be afraid of artichokes.
Marcella Polini was born in Cesenatico [Forlì-Cesena, Emilia-Romagna] in 1924. She gained a Ph.D in Natural Sciences and Biology from the University of Ferrara and was teaching Maths and Science when she met Victor Hazan, an Italian-born New Yorker and later a wine writer, whom she married in 1955.
A few months after their wedding the couple moved to New York and Marcella always said that, before this time, she had no idea how to cook. Perceiving that her husband missed Italian food, Marcella set about turning herself into a serious Italian cook but it wasn't until she was in her forties that she began giving cookery lessons in her apartment. She published her first cookery book, The Classic Italian Cook Book, when she was nearly 50. Victor translated this, and all her books, into English.
Marcella Hazan is credited with introducing "real" Italian cooking into the American kitchen, in much the same way as Julia Child taught Americans to cook French food.
In 2005 Marcella Hazan became a Cavaliere della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana.
My favourite book by Marcella Hazan is Marcella Cucina and my favourite recipe from it is this one, which I have cooked time and time again here, to much acclaim, for friends.