Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the price of Posto’s granita di caffe con panna as $8. It is $5. This version has been corrected.
Back in the late 1970s, when Peter Pastan was still an architecture and creative-writing major at Bennington College, the future chef got his hands on a copy of Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook.” It was the first Italian cookbook he ever owned, and Pastan would often turn to its pages for inspiration when he made the hopeful decision, not long after graduation, to quit his low-level job at an architectural firm in Boston.
“I had nothing to do, so I’d just go shopping every day and make dinner,” recalls Pastan, who then lived in the North End, the Boston neighborhood otherwise known as Little Italy. Hazan’s recipes, says the chef and proprietor of Obelisk and 2 Amys, were “just simple and straightforward and tasty and very ingredient-driven. . . . They were approachable. A lot of French cookbooks at the time took themselves very seriously.”
To pay tribute to the fiery and influential Italian cookbook author who died on Sunday, Pastan plans to add Hazan-inspired dishes to his prix-fixe menu at Obelisk through Saturday. Some recipes will come from Pastan’s tattered copy of “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” which lost its cover at least a decade ago from all the wear and tear. Some recipes will come from other Hazan volumes, such “Marcella’s Italian Kitchen,” Pastan says. Look for peppers and anchovies among the antipasti, potato gnocchi with pesto among the pasta selections, fried baby lamb chops with Parmesan crust for the secondi and red wine-braised pears with bay leaves for the dessert course.
“We’ll probably put a little note on the menu about what we’re doing,” Pastan says about his tribute. He plans to put an asterisk next to the dishes that were inspired by Hazan. The prix-fixe menu runs $75 per person on weekdays, $85 on weekends.
Over at Dino in Cleveland Park, chef and proprietor Dean Gold was likewise a Hazan disciple. “She’s my main influence in Italian cooking,” Gold says. “I read her books. I read them cover to cover when they came out. . . . Marcella was the first person to introduce the concepts of everyday Italian.”
Starting on Wednesday, when Gold changes his menu, he plans to add a variation on Hazan’s classic Bolognese recipe, except he’ll substitute dark turkey meat for the pork and beef. Why the drastic change? “I forgot my order this week,” Gold says, and he has whole turkeys that need to be used instead. The turkey Bolognese will cost $18 for a full order and $12 for an appetizer.
But more than that, Gold says that a good portion of his menu has been inspired by Hazan and her cookbooks. Both his minestrone and his risotto, while perhaps not ingredient-by-ingredient re-creations of Hazan recipes, are based on her instruction. “There are a zillion things on our menu that are burned into my brain from her,” Gold says. “It’s not the ingredients. It’s the technique, it’s the love.”
Elsewhere in Washington, Roberto Donna plans to put Hazan’s lemon roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes on the menu at Al Dente, the chef’s informal trattoria on New Mexico Avenue NW. The dish, available for $21.95, will be available from Saturday through Oct. 12. Donna says it’s one of his favorite Hazan recipes.
Finally, at Posto on 14th Street NW, chef de cuisine Matteo Venini has added Hazan’s granita di caffe con panna, an icy, espresso-rich treat with whipped cream. The special will cost $5 per serving. The granita with whipped cream, as Hazan wrote in “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” “was the most welcome sign that Italian cafes used to put out in summer.”
Summer is over, of course, but perhaps now the granita will serve as a warm reminder of an Italian immigrant who taught America all about the regional cooking of her home country.