Like all great teachers, Marcella Hazan isn't content to reward her disciples with only the obvious. So no recipes, or even measurements, are given out to those who pay $300 for five lessons here or $1,000 for a week at the cooking school she conducts each summer at Bologna, near her childhood home.
Her aims are two: to imbue the student with a sense of food and the methods by which it is prepared in Italy, and with what she calls "the rhythm of the meal" -- the Italian way of eating. Understanding the order of courses, portion size and proper matings of texture and color are vitally important if one intends to cook in the Italian way, she argues.
As a result, students find themselves enrolled in a university. Hazan touches on geography, history, philosophy, chemistry, biology and social science. Politics is about the only subject dear to Italians that she ignores during a class. Listen:
"The garlic taste of these tomatoes will be mild. Why?"
A chorus of answers, all seemingly wrong, comes from the class.
"Because the garlic cooks slowly in the juice of the tomatoes instead of being browned directly over heat," she explains, then continues:
"If you are very generous, and don't worry about cost, use olive oil. If not, use corn or vegetable oil." She pauses, pours a liberal amount of olive oil into the pan and, with the timing of Jack Benny delivering a punch line, concludes "I'm very generous."
She is generous, with her knowledge and cooking philosophy, though not always with her patience.
"How do you chop fine?" a student asks, knife in hand.
"Just keep chopping," Hazan snaps back.
The class has been shown how to cut veal across the grain into scaloppini slices and how to stretch and flatten the slices with a pounder. Now the students take a turn. One by one they come forward and work under her critical eye. There's no coddling, but she stops short of donning a drill sergeant's uniform.
"Push out," she commands. "PUSH OUT!"
"I don't want to ruin another one," says a timid student.
"But you are here to learn," Hazan responds. "We have a lot of meat. Don't worry about it."
Marcella Hazan, who was trained as a biologist, didn't cook until she was married. Her first guide was Ada Boni's famous cookbook. She began teaching only a decade ago after taking a course herself, in Chinese cooking from Grace Chu. She was then in her mid-40s.
It took several years for her to complete "The Classic Italian Cookbook" (Knopf), the work that put her name on the culinary map in bold letters and pushed her into the rarefied company of such teacher-writers as Julia Child and James Beard.
Doing the book wasn't easy, in part because of her free-form style of cooking. "Every time I would try to measure," she recalled, "I would forget what I was doing and the recipe would come out wrong." Finally, her husband, Victor, put transparent coverings over bowls and pots, to catch the ingredients she tossed in as she worked. Then they could be measured.
She also credits Victor with translating her thoughts into an English style that is far more fluid and appealing than the prose in most cookbooks. He is an elegant man, a scholar and knowledgeable wine fancier, who plays an active role in the classes in Bologna.
The Italian program, given in sessions of one or two weeks for a group or 18, includes field trips through the Emilia Romagna region to observe Parma hams and parmesan cheese in the making, to visit restaurants and vineyards. There are more students as well as more distractions. What New York students -- in groups of only six or seven -- experience close up is Hazan's vitality and the spontaneous humor that leavens the seriousness with which she takes herself and her work.
Classes are held in the Hazans' apartment in the East 70s. One is greeted by displays of books, photographs and some superb Oriental silk tapestries. The most forceful impression is that you are in someone's home. There are none of the trappings of a cooking school. The narrow kitchen contains a few pieces of fancy equipment, but nothing so grand as a restaurant stove.
The students gather at a round diningroom table. It is empty; neither coffee nor amenities are offered. Instead Hazan simply starts talking and smoking cigarettes, continues to do both almost without interruption for the next three hours. She prefers to sit while preparing food, she explains, so everyone sits as she deftly employs her hands (the right was crippled in an accident some years ago) to demonstrate peeling, cutting, breading and other tasks. From time to time the students rise and troop into the kitchen to practice what Hazan has been preaching.
Some of the information is detailed: How to use a vegetable peeler with a sawing instead of a cutting motion; how to degrease canned chicken broth (by punching two small holes in the can and pouring it out). She is not a fanatic when it comes to ingredients. Unless you make your own bread, she suggests, why not use packaged bread crumbs?
Some of her advice is conceptual, such as suggesting a quartet of alternative uses for leftover slices of fried eggplant. All of it is valuable.
"Remember, when you fry," she commands, beginning a cadence: "One. If you have to add oil, you are frying wrong. Two. Have patience. The oil must be very hot. Three. Don't keep turning the food. Lift it and look underneath to see if it is ready. Four. Don't put too many things in the pan at once. Five. As soon as you take some pieces out, add more to keep the temperature constant."
Hazan often feels she is fighting an uphill battle in her role as this country's leading ambassador of Italian cuisine.
She suffered visibly through an elaborate prix fixe dinner recently at The Four Seasons restaurant celebrating "The Glories of Bolognese Cooking." She had organized the program, obtaining the services of a young chef from Bologna, two women who are fulltime pastamakers and an expert woman baker. But they had been forbidden to bring some foods into the country; various dishes weren't up to snuff, and few customers were ordering the bollito misto , a selection of several boiled meats and fowl served with three sauces.
"The good Italian food is not fancy," she said. "Bollito misto is boiled meat. But it is also the most famous dish of the region and not easy to make. People in this country want some show. It is hard to impress them with food that is not complicated, that doesn't have a lot of sauce."
She, like others, bemoans the American conception of an Italian dinner as a single plate crowded with meat and spaghetti, both of which are liberally coated with a thick tomato sauce. Pasta is properly served early in the meal as a separate course. Portions of meat and vegetables are small. Often the meal will end with cheese and fruit, not a lavish dessert. "If you eat that way, you don't get fat," she said firmly.
Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region, famous for handmade pastas, sauces and pork products, are invoked often. "I don't talk about it being the best," she said. "But the people there love food. It is on the edge of one of the richest plains in Europe. We have all the products. There is good grazing. The sea is nearby. There is so much interest, such passionate feeling. If someone from Bologna goes traveling, he will not order pasta unless he is starving."
In her second book, "More Classic Italian Cooking" (Knopf), Hazan follows the threads of understated elegance and dramatic simplicity through other regions of Italy as well. Breads and pizzas are given a prominent role. What is simple is not necessarily easy, however, as the recipes that follow indicate.
If one wants a guiding hand, something beyond what is printed in the pages of her books, here is a thought Hazan offered her students:
"The best ingredient in the kitchen is common sense."
SAUTEED SCALLOPS WITH GARLIC AND PARSLEY
1/2 pound fresh scallops, preferably tiny bay scallops, or larger sea scallops cut into 3 or 4 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic chopped fine
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped fine
1 tablespoon chopped capers
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peppers, preferably freshly home-roasted or from a jar
1 1/2 tablespoons fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs
4 scallop shells or small, shallow serving bowls
Wash the scallops thoroughly in cold water, drain, and pat dry with cloth kitchen toweling.
Put the olive oil and garlic in a small saucepan and saute the garlic over medium heat until it becomes colored a pale gold.
Put in the scallops, salt, several liberal grinds of pepper, and turn up the heat. Cook at lively heat, stirring frequently, for no more than 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat, add the parsley, capers, peppers, 1 tablespoon bread crumbs, and mix thoroughly. Parcel out the contents of the pan into 4 scallop shells, or small flameproof gratin pans. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon bread crumbs.
Run the shells or pans under a hot broiler for about a minute or no more than necessary to brown the tops of the scallops very lightly. Serve at once.
MACARONI WITH PEAS AND PEPPERS
(4 to 6 servings)
3 medium red peppers
A brown paper bag
6-ounce slice of prosciutto, cut 1/2 inch thick or slightly less *
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup frozen tiny peas, thawed
1 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1-pound package small tubular macaroni
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (FOOTNOTE)
* (Other hams such as Westphalian, country, or in dire straits, plain cooked ham may be substituted.)(END FOOT)
Roast the peppers under a hot broiler, or resting over the flames of a gas burner, turning them to every side, until all the skin is charred and blistered. They do not need to cook through because they must remain crunchy. Put them in the paper bag, folding it two or three times at the opening to seal it. Set aside.
Dice the slice of prosciutto very fine. Set aside.
When the peppers have cooled off a bit (they should be lukewarm) remove them from the paper bag and peel them with your fingers. It doesn't matter if a patch of skin here and there remains attached to the pepper. Cut them open, removing all the seeds and pulpy inner core. Pat them dry with paper towels and cut them into squares of about 1/4 inch.
Put the butter and diced prosciutto into a saute pan and cook for a few seconds over medium heat.
Add the thawed peas, stir, and cook for an additional minute.
Add the cut-up peppers, stirring them for a few seconds.
Add the cream, salt, and a liberal amount of ground pepper. (Bear in mind when adding the salt that the ham may be quite salty. It would be prudent to salt lightly at first, then taste and add what salt may be needed later.) Turn up the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the cream thickens. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Boil the pasta in the customary manner, in abundant salted water, until it is done, tender but firm to the bite. A half minute or so before the pasta is done, warm up the sauce. Drain the pasta, toss with the sauce in a warm serving bowl, mixing in the grated cheese. Serve immediately.
VEAL SCALOPPINE WITH MARSALA AND CREAM
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound thin veal scaloppine (See note below)
5 tablespoons flour, spread on a dish
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry Marsala
1/3 cup heavy cream
Put the oil and butter into a large saute pan or skillet and heat them up over high heat. As the butter foam begins to subside, dredge the scaloppine, one at a time and on both sides, in the flour and put them in the pan. Do not put in any more than will fit without overlapping.
Brown the scaloppine quickly on both sides. One minute or so for each side quite sufficient if they are very thin, and if the cooking fat is hot enough. Try to turn and brown the pieces of meat in the pan in the same order in which you have put them in, so that all the scaloppine will be cooked evenly. When the scaloppine are done, transfer them to a platter large enough to hold them without overlapping. Use more than one platter if necessary. As you take scaloppine out of the pan, replace them with the raw scaloppine that remain, dredging them in flour just before putting them into the pan. When all the meat is done and has been transferred to the platter, turn off the heat under the pan, and season the meat with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the Marsala to the pan. turning the heat on again to high. Scrape the cooking residue loose from the bottom of the pan, stir, and when you see that the Marsala and fat separate, add the cream. Stir constantly over high heat until the cream is bound with the juices in the pan into a thick sauce.
Turn the heat down to medium, and put into the pan all the scaloppine, one at a time, turning each one over in the sauce. Turn off the heat as soon as the last of the scaloppine have been put into the pan. Transfer the scaloppine to a heated serving platter, and pour over them all the sauce from the pan.
SMOTHERED BROCCOLI IN RED WINE
(4 to 6 servings)
1 bunch fresh broccoli, about 1 1/2 pounds
2 cups onion sliced very thin
1/2 cup black Greek olives, cut in half and pitted
4 flat anchovy fillets, roughly cut up
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, cut into thin slivers
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup sturdy dry red wine
Cut away about 1/2 inch from the tough butt end of the broccoli stalks. Separate the florets from the stalks. With a sharp paring knife, peel off the dark green skin on the stalks and stems. Cut the stalks, lengthwise, into strips about 1/4 inch thick. Divide the larger floret clusters in two.
Take a large saute pan, and cover its bottom with a thin layer of onion slice Over this spread a layer of broccoli stalks. Dot with a few olives, some bits of anchovy, and a few slivers of parmesan Sprinkle with a little salt. Just a small pinch will do, because the olives, anchovy, and parmesan are already salty. Moisten with a thin stream of olive oil.
Repeat this entire procedure, alternating layers of sliced onion with broccoli stalks, moistening them each time with a little olive oil. Save the broccoli florets for the top layer.
When all the ingredients have been used up, add the red wine. Cover, and cook for 1 hour over medium heat, or until all the wine has evaporated. Do not stir. Serve promptly when done. Do not set aside and reheat.
8 ounces ricotta
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
Grated peel of 1 lemon (do not grate deep enough to reach the pith)
Vegetable oil, enough to come 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan
1/2 cup honey
Put the ricotta into a bowl, and beat it with a whisk until is rather creamy. Break the eggs into a soup dish or small bowl, and beat them lightly with a fork. Add them to the ricotta, beating in with a whisk. Put in the flour, a little at a time, beating it into the ricotta with the whisk. Add the butter, lemon peel, and a tiny pinch of salt, beating all the ingredients until they are well amalgamated.
Set the batter aside, and let it rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours, but no more than 3 1/2.
Put the oil into a frying pan, and turn on the heat to medium high. When the oil is quite hot (test it with a driblet of batter -- if it instantly floats to the surface, the oil is ready), put in the batter, a tablespoonful at a time. A fast and easy method is to push it off the spoon, using the rounded corner of a rubber spatula. Do not overcrowd the pan.
When the fritters are golden brown on one side, turn them and brown the other side. If they are not puffing up into little balls, the heat is too high. Turn it down a little. When the fritters are nicely browned all over, transfer them with a slotted spoon or spatula to paper towels to drain. If there is more batter left, repeat the procedure.
When all the fritters are done, place them on a serving platter, pour the honey over them, and serve while still hot. CAPTION: Pictures 1, 2, Photos of Marcella Hazan by Margaret Thomas -- The Washington Post ; Picture 3, Photo by Margaret Thomas -- The Washington Post