Book Review: Ingredienti, by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

Published by Thursday, July 14, 2016 Permalink 0

Book Review: Ingredienti, by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

by Jonell Galloway

This guide is the testament of a woman who based her cooking life on the truth of every dish she cooked and taught, the vigorous truth of clear, uncluttered taste, taste that arises neither from obeisance to dogma, nor from a craving for attention, but evolves inspired by, and respectful of, the ingredients that nourish it.–Victor Hazan in the introduction to Ingredienti

Marcella Hazan, the “godmother of Italian cooking” and the woman many credit with bringing Italian cuisine to the U.S., died in 2013, leaving behind two years’ worth of handwritten notes in Italian in preparation for Ingredienti. Her lifetime collaborator, Victor Hazan, translated and edited these notes, resulting in what is undoubtedly a classic before its time.

With Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks in my suitcase, I was already “tasting Italy” on my way back from London to my home in France. I had a plan: to use her books to learn how to cook Italian food.

That was nearly twenty years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that the precious ingredients required were simply not available in provincial France. French supermarkets sold pasta made in France with French flour, not Italian pasta made from grano duro. French tomatoes were watery-tasting, even the canned ones. Mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano were rarities found only in a few exclusive shops in Paris. The French were just starting to get interested in olive oil, although in the Southeast it had long been the fat of choice thanks to its Greek and Roman history.

Disappointment quickly set in. Marcella’s Italian recipes weren’t going to taste of Italy using French ingredients. It is no wonder that she wanted to write Ingredienti. She knew this was a problem when living outside Italy and felt the need to enlighten her readers about how to choose and treat ingredients.

It was only later when I moved to Switzerland, where good-quality Italian ingredients of all kinds — tomatoes, pasta, cheese, fruit — were readily available that I returned to Marcella. From Geneva, it was also easy to travel to Turin to the Slow Food gatherings. During the Terra Madre conference, I’d arrive every morning with a roller suitcase and, over the course of the day, fill it with food to take back to Switzerland.

Later, in my Italian food journey — even when living in Italy — Marcella, and later Victor, became for me household words, their books like a treatise, a bible, that I refer to in times of doubt, for example, when I make “red” spaghettini alle vongole, which I must have made a hundred times using Marcella’s recipe.

As important as this book is, Marcella Hazan’s recipes are not only about ingredients. The true secret to her success is the lucid precision of the explanations. A scientist by training with two doctorates, her instructions are methodical, almost mathematical. She counts in minutes and half minutes, and you can count on what she says. Though her cookbooks were not written as culinary classes per se, once you’ve followed her risotto instructions a couple of times, you are struck by the rigorousness of the recipe, of how each step is in its proper place, and each time given is exact, and it becomes like a work of art or a perfect mathematical equation, with no excess and no frill.

Ingredienti is indeed a testament to Marcella Hazan’s undying commitment not only to Italian cooking, but also to the importance of choosing products and the actual process of shopping, on which we put too little emphasis. Marcella had an intimate relationship with products, knowing them inside and out as if they were the baby she’d raised. “Choose a pepper by its size, shape, and heft. It should be large, heavy, shiny, firm, and cubical in form. The long tapered ones are not as solidly meaty.” Now you have a clear image in your mind of what to look for next time you buy a pepper. The entire book is like this, leaving you with the impression that you’d been going to a market class with Marcella for a week and held the artichokes or peppers or onions in your hands.

Speaking of extra-virgin olive oil, she says, “if olive oil were a drug, it would have a place of honour among miracle drugs,” saying that “it well might be the most significant contribution to my survival.” Although she embraces the use of lard and butter, used in her native Emilia-Romagna, olive oil was the superstar in her kitchen.

On the important subject of pasta: one can’t say fresh pasta is always better than dried pasta. Fresh pasta, made with eggs and flour, longs for butter and cream, which seep into the crevices of its rough surface; dried pasta, made with water and flour, is a perfect marriage for olive-oil and tomato-based sauces, which slide gracefully around it. You’ll never look at pasta the same way once you’ve “consumed” this chapter; in fact, you’ll want to read it over and over, making sure not to miss a single point.

She tells you everything you need to know about Parmigiano-Reggiano, not to be confused with generic parmesan cheese. Its goodness depends on the origin of the milk, the breed of cow, the age, the season, and, of course, the method used to make it. Though this is not a recipe book, Marcella throws in the prize of Victor’s grandmother’s recipe for Parmigiano crostini, not to be missed.

The book is broken down by category of ingredient, including “Produce,” “The Essential Pantry,” and “Salumi,” with individual chapters devoted to classic Italian ingredients such as artichoke, eggplant, and tomatoes; pasta, risotto rice, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and red wine vinegar; prosciutto, pancetta, and lardo, and a whole host of other products.

For those who live in locations in the U.S. where Italian ingredients are not available in the same way, just as I did in France, the book includes a fairly exhaustive list of online suppliers of good-quality ingredients with precise indications of what to order from whom.

Count on reading the book from front to cover in one or two sittings, and then keeping it on your kitchen shelf for easy, repeated reference, as you might do with a prayer book. As with all of Marcella and Victor Hazan’s collaborations, there is never an extraneous word, sentence, or idea, so you’ll want to read the important passages numerous times.

Like a yogi, Marcella repeated the same “postures” over and over, meditating upon the ingredients, seeking the truth in them with a focused faith and methodical effort. As a result, Ingredienti reads much like a text written by a spiritual master in old age. It is concrete proof of her dedication; it is the wisdom of years lived in perfect harmony with food, based on her immeasurable knowledge and intimate relationship with ingredients, but also on an almost spiritual reverence for their integrity. It is, indeed, a testament of Marcella and the truth she sought by going to the essence of every foodstuff she touched, and of the truth she attained in her reasoned, scientific manner.

 

 

 

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What to Eat in France: Pain du Moulin

Published by Thursday, June 2, 2016 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Pain du Moulin, or “bread from the mill”

by Jonell Galloway

My adopted hometown of Chartres is in the Beauce region, the breadbasket of France. Large, flat wheat fields surround the single hill of Chartres, topped with the most beautiful Gothic Cathedral in the world. You can see the cathedral for miles when driving across the fields, and a quite magical view it is, its spires dominating the flat farmlands. No wonder people have been making pilgrimages here for at least 5,000 years.

Chartrains, as we call the people from here, come from the land. Everyone in the region has a farm or has family who owns one, and because of the abundance of grains of every kind — wheat, barley, corn, rye and many more — grains are an integral part of the local diet.

This traditional recipe is referred to as “bread from the mill,” but no one knows the exact origin of that name. In the past, the Beaucerons (the inhabitants of the Beauce region), of Celtic and Druidic origins, ate this on the Jour des Morts, the day of the dead, which fell on November 2 after All Saint’s Day, when the living were said to communicate with the dead, when tombs and graves were said to open so that the world of the visible and invisible could intermingle for a short period.

 

Pain du moulin / bread from the mill, French recipe from Chartres/Beauce, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early in the morning of November 2, local bakers made pain aux morts, or “bread to the dead” (this could even be translated in a more ghoulish manner, “bread (made from) the dead”), out of flour and milk, for a traditional 10 a.m. breakfast before going to the cemetery.

In the nineteenth century, the church decided that All Saints Day sufficed and such pagan customs were more or less done away with. Beaucerons continue to eat this bread during the All Saints celebrations, however, calling it “bread from the mill” instead of “bread to the dead.”

I often serve this recipe with apéritif, but it can also make a vegetarian dinner, and can, of course, be eaten year round.

Recipe

Ingredients

Pain au lait, French milk bread, Chartres/Beauce, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pains au lait or 3-4″-long milk breads
6 cups milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese or similar, grated
Cooking oil
Kitchen string

Instructions

  1. Cut the bread in half lengthwise.
  2. Use a spoon to scrape the crumbs out of the crust, taking care to leave the crust intact, and put the crumbs in a bowl.
  3. Pour milk over crumbs and mix.
  4. Add the eggs and the grated cheese and mix well.
  5. Fill the crusts with the bread crumb mixture.
  6. Use kitchen string to tie the bread halves together.
  7. Heat cooking oil in a deep pan or fryer. When the oil starts to bubble, drop in the bread and cheese preparations.
  8. Cook until golden brown.
  9. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately while hot.

 

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A French Cook in Venice: Sea Bass and Potatoes

Published by Wednesday, March 23, 2016 Permalink 0

Venetian Hours: A French Cook in Venice: Sea Bass and Potatoes

by Jonell Galloway

In France, many a festive occasion is highlighted with sea bass. And since France and Venice are first cousins once removed, it turns out to be rather the same in Venice. A big fat bass is considered a treat.

Both places make sea bass in a salt crust, which is perhaps the cooking method that best preserves the juices, but when you have a nice wild one, which is rare enough these days, it will stand up to roasting.

jonell galloway holding wild sea bass venice italy photo by Alexandra Korey http://www.arttrav.com/

I got inspiration for this recipe from a traditional Venetian recipe called branzino con patate et olive, or sea bass with potatoes and olives, in which they cook the bass on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes. One finds it in the better restaurants, but rarely in the touristy ones, perhaps because it’s time-consuming, although not difficult.

I’m wild about vegetables, so I added the sun-dried tomatoes, which add not only color, but a deeper flavor and more texture, an idea I got from Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso near San Apostoli in our neighborhood of Cannaregio. The baby Swiss chard is also my addition.

bietola baby swiss chard venice, italy, French cook in Venice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I add olives, sometimes not. Other times, I add capers, and other times both. This partially depends on whether the bass is wild or farmed. The farmed ones lack full flavor and these additions add some life as well as contrast to the dish. Onions can also add spark, especially to a farm-raised bass.

As always, my French touch means that I add a bit more wine than the Venetians. I do like my sauce. After all, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

 

Wild Sea Bass, Venetian Hours, The Rambling Epicure, French cook in Venice

Recipe

Serves 4

Whole sea bass, wild if possible, cleaned and scaled, about 3 lbs. or 1.5 kg
4 large potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

10 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Parsley, chopped coarsely
2-3 cups white wine
4-5 branches of fresh rosemary
Olive oil
One bunch of young Swiss chard or 
bietola
Salted capers
Black olives (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heavy metal roasting pan

Click here for a conversion chart.

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F / 220°C.
  2. Thinly slice the potatoes.
  3. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into the roasting pan. A broiler pan or heavy roasting pan is perfect.
  4. Place the potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes in the pan, in a single layer, turning them to evenly coat them in the olive oil.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Place in oven, turning every 5 minutes and adding oil if they start drying out. Cook until the potatoes start to feel soft, but firm, when pricked with a knife or 15-20 minutes.
  7. Remove the vegetables from the oven. Turn carefully in the pan juices.
  8. Evenly distribute the onions, parsley and branches of rosemary, setting one branch aside.
  9. Place the sea bass on the bed of potatoes. Insert one branch of rosemary in the cavity.
  10. Salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Add one cup of white wine to the bottom of the pan.
  12. Place in the oven and lower the temperature to 400°F / 200°C, adding more white wine every time it evaporates and turning the potatoes each time. This prevents the potatoes from sticking and rehumidifies the sun-dried tomatoes.
  13. After 15-20 minutes, use a metal spatula and check whether the top of the fish is cooked by carefully trying to lift it off the bone. It is important to use a metal spatula because it “cuts through” the fish; a rubber one is thicker and might mangle the flesh. If it can barely be lifted away from the bone, the top is nearly cooked, so remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn it. You may need two heavy-duty spatulas or utensils to do so because of the weight.
  14. Return it to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, checking it in the same manner using a metal spatula to see if it is cooked, and adding white wine as necessary.
  15. When the fish is fully cooked — just enough to lift it off the bone — lay the leaves of chard over the fish and vegetables and return to the oven for 1 minute, just enough to wilt it.
  16. Remove the baking pan from the oven and turn the chard in the rendered juices. Filet the fish; it will usually be possible to simply lift it off with a metal spatula.
  17. Serve immediately.
  18. Serve salted capers as a garnish.
  19. Serve any white wine left in the pan as sauce.

Tip: If you hesitate about adding this much white wine, you can substitute half of it with freshly squeezed orange juice. The exact cooking time of the sea bass varies depending on the thickness of the fish, thus the importance of using the spatula technique. There is no need to add lemon when serving, since the white wine gives an acidic edge. You can also use turbot for this dish; follow the same steps, but because it is not as thick as bass, the cooking time will be less.

 

 

 

 

 

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A French Cook in Venice: Fegato alla Veneziana

Published by Sunday, March 6, 2016 Permalink 1

Franco-Venetian Cuisine

What to Eat in Venice: Fegato alla Veneziana, or Venetian-style Calf’s Liver with Caramelized Onions

by Jonell Galloway

Many say this is the ultimate Venetian specialty, but considering that Venetians eat mainly fish, one could easily argue that point. A good fegato can be the highlight of a day or weekend, however.

Everyone loves caramelized onions, but some people dislike even the idea of eating liver. Calf’s liver is finer than beef or chicken, and when it’s topped with sweet onions, it is indeed a highly refined dish.

You’ll see the influence of my background in French cuisine; I went a bit heavy on the white wine when deglazing the pan, but it renders a succulent sauce.

One of the crucial elements to the success of this dish is that the liver be of exceptional quality and thinly sliced. Thick slabs simply don’t work and take away from the refined aspect of this dish.

Another secret is to slow cook the onions and to just seize the liver, no more. If you cook it more and on slow heat, it will become leathery.

Recipe

Ingredients

400 g onions
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
400 g calf’s liver cut in extra-thin slices
1-2 cups white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian parsley, chopped
Skillet large enough to spread liver in a single layer
White polenta

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What to Eat in France: Gratin Dauphinois

Published by Thursday, November 19, 2015 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Authentic Gratin Dauphinois, or Real Gratin Potatoes with Cream and Garlic

by Jonell Galloway

Gratin dauphinois, which consists of thinly sliced potatoes cooked slowly with cream and garlic, seems a simple enough dish. Purists and traditionalists say there’s no cheese and no egg, despite the fact that Escoffier himself used them, and that’s what makes it difficult to achieve.

Michelin star chef Michel Rostang, who was born and raised in the region, doesn’t use them and claims that’s the only authentic way to make it. In fact, if you add cheese and nutmeg, it becomes a gratin savoyard. The real secret is in the choice of ingredients and the patience it takes to make it. A good gratin should melt in the mouth, yet the top should be crunchy.

The Dauphiné was an ancient province of France, located in the southeast, corresponding roughly to the départements of Isère, Drôme, and Hautes-Alpes plus a bit of the Rhône and the Italian Alps.

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Is haute cuisine still relevant?

Published by Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Permalink 0

Is French cuisine dead? Not even close.

by Jonell Galloway

Is haute cuisine still relevant? Yes. What’s happening with it and does it still matter?

In 2009, Michael Steinberger, in his book Au Revoir to All That, declared that the ostensible decline of Michelin-starred restaurants mirrors the decline of France. While it is true that French cuisine, in particular the haute cuisine of the gastronomic palaces, may be threatened by high overheads and a weak economy, it would be wrong and premature to announce its demise. Profit margins are slim in high-end, labor-intensive restaurants, and labor laws are strict. The over-indulgence of the grandes tables of the past with their thousands of bottles of ancient claret in the cellar has been compromised by taxes on stock and thirty-nine hour work weeks that simply don’t work in the restaurant business, even if it’s four hours more than in other sectors.

Despite all that, French cuisine is still alive and kicking, and the number of Michelin star restaurants increases every year: today France has 26 three-star restaurants, four more than in 2000, and 80 two-star restaurants, ten more than in 2000, according to the Financial Times. In 2015, there are 25 per cent more one-star restaurants. These palaces remain quintessentially French in their food, service and organization. Simplified versions of these chefs’ dishes are published in cooking magazines and imitated in millions of homes around France, making it relevant even in middle class households. French families may not eat in such establishments often, but they will save and go to them once a year for a special occasion. This French devotion to their food traditions will ensure its survival.

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What to Eat in France: Crêpes Vonnassiennes

Published by Wednesday, November 18, 2015 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Crêpes Vonnassiennes, Vonnas-style Potato Pancakes

by Jonell Galloway

Vonnas in the east of France is the home of the legendary Michelin-star chef Georges Blanc. He is best known for his Bresse chicken with cream and mushrooms. Traditionally, this chicken is eaten with potato pancakes. This recipe is inspired by Blanc’s mother, La Mère Blanc, who ran his restaurant before him. He learned to cook at her apron strings.

Vonnas is in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, known for poulet de Bresse chickens and poultry, frogs, Reblochon and Beaufort cheese, as well as gratin dauphinois, made with raw potatoes, thick cream and garlic, and pork products, plentiful in the bouchons, small restaurants found in Lyon.

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What to Eat in France: Poulet de Bresse

Published by Saturday, November 14, 2015 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Poulet de Bresse, or Chicken from Bresse with Cream and Mushrooms

by Jonell Galloway

J’ai la chair de poule. / I have goose bumps.

Quand les poules auront des dents. / Literally, “when chickens have teeth,” meaning that will never happen.

Bresse chicken or poulet de Bresse has had an A.O.C. since 1957, which defines the way in which they are raised as well as the geographic zone in which they can be raised.

It is a French breed known as Bresse-Gauloise. The feathers are generally white, and they have a red, crenelated comb. They have blue feet and a white beard. About a million chickens are sent to market every year.

Poulet de Bresse and other poultry from Bresse — including guinea fowl, capon, hen and even turkey — is raised under strictly defined conditions, but it is not organic. They are free range and have a grass-based diet, but also eat worms and mollusks. Final fattening is with cereals and milk products in wooden cages. Bresse poultry cannot be slaughtered under 5 months of age if they are to bear the A.O.C.

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What to Eat in France: Boeuf Bourguignon

Published by Saturday, November 14, 2015 Permalink 0

What to Eat in France: Boeuf Bourguignon, or Burgundy-style beef stew in red wine, inspired by French chef Bernard Loiseau

by Jonell Galloway

Boeuf à la bourguignonne, also referred to as beef or boeuf bourguignon, is a French classic from the Burgundy wine region of France. It is made with red Burgundy wine, and simmered for hours. It makes up part of what the French refer to as “plats cuisinés“, or slow-cooked dishes.

This recipe is quite easy to make, and should serve about 8 people. Plan to make it well in advance, since it is best when it is left to marinate for 24 hours and cook slowly several hours on the day of serving. It is the perfect dish for dinner parties or potlucks, and is one of the best leftovers around.

Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe

Click here for metric-Imperial-U.S. recipe converter

Serves 8

Preparation time: 45 min

Cooking time: 2 1/2 to 3 hrs
Marinating: 24 hrs
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Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.

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— Wendell Berry

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