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Oct 6, 2006 02:39 AM

An open apology to Marcella Hazan

Dear Mrs Hazan:

I have belittled you for years as one of those fussy, unnecessarily picky, froufrou cooks.

Encouraged by reports on this board, I went to my local bookshop and thumbed through your cookbooks. I copied out the recipe for your Bolognese sauce (and, as an aside, how many thirty-year-old men are there on this Earth who can write in Gregg shorthand?), stopped off at the butcher and the Italian market to get the meat and the ingredients, and proceeded to make the sauce. Uncharacteristically, I decided to follow the recipe to the letter; I typically use recipes simply as inspiration.

I have to admit that after being told to cook the meat in the milk first to "protect" it from the acidity of the wine and tomatoes, I was not feeling particularly charitable toward you. "Just the sort of fussy thing I'd expect," I muttered.

You'll never know, though, how hard it was for me to cook it the entire three hours. After one hour, having made and hung the tagliatelle to accompany, I was salivating. After two hours, the dog was trying to climb the stove, and I kept having to pull her down -- she was between me and that wafting odour! After two and a half hours, the neighbours came next door to find out what on earth smelled so good. I put two more plates out on the table and made a quick salad out of shaved fennel, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice.

It was insanely good. No-one said a word through the entire meal. We were too busy shoveling food into our mouths. The dog whined for an hour to get some of the sauce. When we were done we had consumed a double recipe of tagliatelle and the entire recipe of Bolognese sauce, the aforementioned fennel salad, and a ricotta-and-pear tart. Four people.

I walked -- nay, I waddled -- back to the bookstore and paid for your book. It will be in a place of honour on my bookshelf once I have got through it (I am currently on the risotto section, and I'm happy to see that you are not one of those people for whom risotto is some kind of deep magic, but a matter of a fairly simple technique).

Chastised but more open-minded, I remain

Yours in the pursuit of delectable meat sauce,


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  1. Great letter! Reading it reminded me of my first time making the Zuni chicken and bread salad...the building anticipation from the incredible roasty smell and then the magic of eating it. Similar silence at the table. A serious revelation and enough to get me to buy the book.

    Which book was this bolognese sauce in? I've heard that one is better than the other; the inferior being the one in Essentials, which I wasn't that crazy about. Now I want bolognese...

    1. That was great! She's just so good--fussy perhaps, but good.

      And I think I know what I'll be making next ... lol. :)

      1. This book called "Marcella Says..." is available for $6.98 at Also available for $6.98, "The Simple Art of PerfectBaking" by Flo Braker.

        1. Bravo!!!
          I have found that every one of Marcella's recipes always turned out to be just fine and sometimes even more wonderful.
          She gives you clear instructions.
          She knows her stuff.
          She is one of the pinnacle writers in the food field.
          She worked hard on every recipe.
          If she is still alive, I hope she reads this.

          1 Reply
          1. Charming. Just charming. Wait until you do the pork roast in milk. Or the roasted chicken. Or...well, anything, really. And call me; I'll be more than willing to help you consume whichever Marcella recipe you make next.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Elizzie

              If she can cure me of my complete inability to roast whole birds, even armed with a probe thermometre, I will eat my foot for the pasta course.

              If it continues to be slightly breezy and chilly (it never gets COLD here in southern California), I will try her chicken with two lemons this weekend.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                You might wish to retract that promise about consuming an appendage, since the chicken with lemons will be wonderful.

                1. re: jillp

                  Well, I made the chicken with two lemons, a 1.5 kg bird. I followed the recipe, except that I let it sit (covered in a foil tent) on the stove for fully forty-five minutes after I took it out of the oven.

                  It was wonderful, still warm and easy to carve. I've never seen such a juicy bird in my life, and I don't know what makes it juicy -- it can't be the lemons, can it? I mean, it's salt, pepper, lemons and a bird.

                  My only beef is that there wasn't enough runoff to make gravy or even a jus. Oh darn, what a shame. It didn't NEED any gravy.

                  The foot, however, was tough and sinewy, so I set that aside.

                  We had pissaladière, linguine with scampi, the aforementioned chicken with two lemons, roasted broccoli with parmigiano and then the ugliest dessert I have ever personally inflicted on anyone eating in my house, a flan made with dulce de leche -- but it was fantastic... brutto ma buono, four of us practically came to blows over the last piece of a ten-inch flan.

                  Thus satisfied that this lady KNOWS what she is doing after many, many decades doing it, I intend to delve in. I do have some complaints about some of her proscriptions (you can take away my salmone al pesto when you pry it from my cold, dead hands), but these recipes, though simple, are prodigiously good.

                  Let's hear it for How-to Hazan!

                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Das, I loved your note and I love Marcella. But cooking whole birds is a snap, especially on an outdoor grill (charcoal or gas, don't make much difference). Ditto in the oven. A 3.5-4-lb. chicken takes 90-100 minutes at 350-375 F. Start it breast down, then flip 2/3 of the way thru (you tend to get a moister breast that way, but it's really not necessary). Wiggle the leg to see if it's done -- if there's movement in the thigh, too, Eureka. Remember it will continue to cook for 5-10 minutes after removing from the heat, too. If it's other birds you're having trouble with, I'll tell you what I know.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    I'll second a plug for the two lemons recipe. I thought it too simple and considered the heat too high but man was I wrong. Absolutely wonderful and extremely easy to make. Go for it!

                    1. re: kevine

                      The lemons never fail. I peel mine (sometimes use three or four) and chop them in two. You can even accidentally have an extra glass of wine and forget you have a bird in oven, and it still comes out juicy and tender. I also tried it on cornish hens last week and they were just lovely.

                      1. re: chickie

                        Why make extra work for yourself? The unpeeled lemons work fine and if you peel them you're losing the aroma from the zest.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I have tried not peeling them but the resulting juices were bitter...

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Das - you need Ina Garten's "perfect roast chicken" recipe from her first cookbook "The Barefoot Contessa." We laugh about the title, but I swear it is *always* perfect, when the cook follows the recipe. And, the bonus is crystal-clear instructions on making gravy. I've modified it for other fowl also.

                      (Tangent: my aunt, who is a good home cook, has had the responsibility for T-giving gravy for about 20 years. Last year she gave me a special wisk to use for "gravy lumps." Um, yeah. Thanks to Ina *I* don't have lumpy gravy - ever.)

                      1. re: ElissaInPlaya

                        I'll have to check it out, thanks! I am, however, an excellent gravy-maker, to the point where I end up having to make gravy pretty much anywhere. And I've never, not once in twenty years since I was old enough to see over the stove, had a single lump in my gravy.

                      2. re: Das Ubergeek

                        In response to Das Ub's So Cal. weather statement.....Oh yeah? I have photos to prove it SNOWED in Silver Lake in 1949.