The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie

Cookbooks on my Shelf

In Essay, Food, Garden on January 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm


The paperback edition of Marcella’s Italian Kitchen was gifted to me over twenty years ago. It was a thank you from a student who was doing a rotation through the research lab where I was working at the time.

I remember a day when I met her ten year old son.  Sick and unable to attend school he accompanied his mom to the hospital.  I offered to look after him while she attended a biochemistry lecture.  One she couldn’t miss. Unexpectedly, I had an assistant.

For an hour or so we had fun viewing slides under the microscope. While his mom scribbled notes on the chemical processes of life, with a little light and a lot of magnification, he and I looked at cells where it was all taking place.

She returned grateful.  I was in my twenties at the time.  Not yet a wife, nor a mother.   She was both and a first year medical student in her early forties now attending a most prestigious school. She had been an artist.  Later I learned a close friend’s sickness and death had inspired her to enter a new career late in life.

At the time I did not fully appreciate the tenacity of her calling or the significance her gift. The cookbook sat forgotten for almost two decades. But thankfully while organizing our pantry I ran across it again.  Making me recall Susan and her son, Noah, and their story.

I found my middle-aged self inspired.  Hopeful she accomplished what she set out to do. But more than ever I was reminded that the pursuit of dreams is what makes a life.  Dreams do not expire.  Nor are they reserved for youth.  Sometimes it’s the journey that forges character, bringing a new story into being.

*  * * * * * *

Hailing from the Midwest, summer sweet strawberries are available for a very short window.  I appreciated Marcella’s tip for sweetening up even the palest of strawberries with balsamic vinegar in her recipe, Fragole all’Aceto Balsamico.  I do something similar with out-of-season, less than garden lovely, store-bought, fruit. It’s a variation that I make using chopped strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar.  It’s a sweet strawberry salsa served with Italian bread for dipping.  It’s a quick recipe my mom always enjoys. I still need to write this one up.

My favorite part of this cookbook has to be her discussions in the chapter entitled, Good Italian Cooking.  These include:  Cooking:  A Language, Elementary Rules, The Ingredients, Cooking & Preparations and finally, Tools.  Jam packed with information and technical how-to’s it really is an amazing resource.  It’s where I first learned about the San Marzano tomato variety grown near Naples–a must when making  Marcella Hazen’s Sauce, although she would probably insist on fresh or flash frozen.

Great cookbooks are something I like to have around in our kitchen.  Something I enjoy going back to from time to time.  Re-reading sections in much the same way I enjoy going back to favorite passages of a great novel or beautiful lines of a beloved poem.

  1. Marcella Hazan is the greatest! Her prose is just as good as her recipes, and that’s saying something.

    • Agreed. Loved re-reading this one. Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment for me to enjoy. Cheers!

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