Mrs. Hazan, a biologist with two doctoral degrees, said she had never cooked before her marriage in 1955; her family in Italy had always relied on hired help. Her first trips to American markets were demoralizing and she likened them to a culinary graveyard: “The food was dead, wrapped in plastic coffins.”
Her husband, who was working for his family’s furrier business, encouraged her budding passion for re-creating the savory pleasures of her youth. She had “innate intuition” for cooking, he later said, because she “came out of a culture where food is a central part of life.”
But her professional cooking career was an accident. She was taking a class on Chinese cuisine in 1969 when classmates asked her for Italian recipes. Word soon got to the influential food writer and critic Craig Claiborne of the New York Times, who cemented her reputation in a feature article the next year.
Marcella Hazan was from then on a leading ambassador of Italian cuisine. Julia Child once called her “my mentor in all things Italian.” Her workshops in New York and Italy drew ordinary homemakers as well as the chef and food writer James Beard and entertainers such as Danny Kaye and Burt Lancaster.
Her cultural status was affirmed by the New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress, who captured her allure in a drawing for Gastronomica magazine a decade ago. He depicted two women in a kitchen, one telling the other about the image in a shrine over the stove: “It’s not a saint, exactly. It’s Marcella Hazan.”
For each of her six cookbooks, which sold millions of copies in all, Mrs. Hazan offered recipes that were clear, uncomplicated and dependable. This won the hearts of chefs, food critics, fellow cookbook authors and home cooks alike, and earned her first-name-only status on par with Julia.
Mrs. Hazan demanded the use of extra-virgin olive oil years before it became a staple of the Mediterranean diet fad. She taught people to put a lemon in the cavity of a roast chicken; to savor spaghetti sauced with garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper flakes and flat-leaf parsley as much as any tomato sauce; and to notice the difference salt makes by smelling, not just tasting.
The genius of her four-ingredient tomato sauce — fresh or canned San Marzano tomatoes, butter, an onion and salt — freed home cooks from having to reconstruct the thick, overly sweet red blankets they’d pour from a jar.
If Child, a friend, gently criticized her for being “too much of a perfectionist,” Mrs. Hazan felt she had much to be exasperated about in trying to correct American cooking habits and trends she found ludicrous.