Features & Stories

Behind The Cookbook: Hazan Family Favorites

“The food we prepare for our family and the memories associated with it are precious.”

By Giuliano Hazan

Giuliano Hazan is culinary royalty, the son of the ‘godmother of Italian cooking,’ Marcella Hazan. He’s a talented cook and teacher, and the author of four cookbooks. Hazan Family Favorites is a collection of recipes from both sets of grandparents, his parents, his own recipes, and dishes his wife and daughters love to cook and eat. Giuliano recalls the important things his mother taught him, from how to cook, to being true to oneself – and chooses three recipes that have particular importance to him

I have had the good fortune of growing up with parents who nurtured my passion for cooking and eating well. Some of my fondest memories are times spent in the kitchen with my mother. My mother’s genius was in making the ordinary extraordinary. When asked what she cooked at home, my mother would answer, “Normal food!” Of course, “normal” for my mother was the best and truest a dish could be, and I easily became accustomed to nothing less at the dinner table.

 
At 6 years old, with my mother in northern Italy.

At 6 years old, with my mother in northern Italy.

 

This created quite a problem for me when it came to eating lunch at school. I could not bring myself to eat the food at the school cafeteria so my mother packed me a lunch.  My lunch hardly resembled the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that my classmates brought to school. 

I would bring a Thermos to school filled with meatballs with tomatoes and peas, a veal stew with mushrooms, or the wonderful soups that my mother made for me. I ended up enduring a fair amount of teasing from my classmates for the odd lunches I brought to school, but the pleasure my mother’s lunches gave me easily made up for it.

“I learned to cook by osmosis”

I like to say that I learned to cook by osmosis. I adored sitting in the kitchen watching and absorbing as my mother cooked. There was usually very little talk. I would simply watch her cook. I learned by taking in her every move. Everything she did was deliberate. I saw the care, focus, and detail she put into everything she did. When she cooked, it was never a one-way street.

At my home, serving my parents the green lasagne I made for my father’s birthday.

At my home, serving my parents the green lasagne I made for my father’s birthday.

She didn’t just do things to the food she was preparing; she watched, listened and smelled, letting the food speak to her and reacting to it accordingly. She said I was her “official taster” because understanding flavor was the most important lesson she wanted me to learn.

My mother has been described as exacting and abrupt but, just like her food, she was genuine, honest, and uncompromising. To be true to myself was one of the most important lessons she taught me. Her food was imbued with her soul. Like her pork braised in milk, the essence of the simplicity of her cooking, where just two main ingredients can become so incredibly delicious.

“Cooking for one’s family is an act of love”

I only started cooking when I left home. I didn’t have a choice. I was hungry. I missed the food I had grown accustomed to. But by the time I left home, I had already acquired the taste memories that would be my guide when I began cooking for myself and eventually for my family.

Food was always an essential part of my parents’ lives. Growing up in that environment, it inevitably became an essential part of my life. A day without pausing to savor a meal together with my family is unimaginable.

 
My father shaving fresh white truffle over risotto for my mother.

My father shaving fresh white truffle over risotto for my mother.

 

The silver lining to living during the Coronavirus pandemic has been having more time to cook, and eating at home almost all the time. The need to make time to eat together as a family is more important than ever. Cooking for one’s family is an act of love and nurturing. The food we prepare for our family and the memories associated with it are precious.

While my mother was alive I would often consult with her about what I was cooking. And I continue now, even though she is no longer with us. Somehow, I still hear her reply.

Giuliano’s top three family recipes

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion

This sauce unfailingly elicits feelings of comfort and wellbeing. Its ability to wash away fatigue and anxiety is almost magical, and its preparation borders on alchemy. Who would think that simply putting tomatoes, a peeled halved onion, butter, and salt in a pot and cooking it with barely an occasional stir until it is reduced, would produce such rich concentrated goodness. In my freezer there is always a batch, ready to be defrosted and enjoyed in the time it takes to cook some pasta.

Spaghetti with Scallops

Here is another example of how delicious simplicity can be.  Sweet, fresh scallops are cut into small dice and simply sautéed over high heat with garlic and parsley. What makes the dish special is tossing them with the pasta along with breadcrumbs, which soak up the scallop flavor and cling to the pasta.

Meatballs with Tomato and Peas

This is a staple in our home. I make these in large batches and freeze them in amounts sufficient for a meal. There is little that is more comforting than these meatballs served with my Nonna Mary’s rice.