Cooking the Book III: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

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I wish I had more time to spend in the kitchen.

As much as I love makeup, I think if I was offered the opportunity to switch up my career path and do anything else, I would likely be someone’s personal chef. I really could spend most of my hours tinkering away in the kitchen every day, trying out new recipes and feeding people. Half the time I want to cook things even when I’m not hungry, just to… I don’t know; create, maybe? To feed others. To make people happy. Must be my Italian genes. I just have a deep need to make people happy by feeding them.

Anyhow; I digress. Lately, when I do have the time to cook, the noms I’ve been whipping up have been from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Back in June, a few lady friends and I decided to challenge ourselves to a cook book cook though. (Original post and second installment, respectively). We are trying to cook at least 90% of the recipes in the book over the next year. However, given that I only average 3 recipes a week, it will likely take me far longer and I’ve become okay with that. I don’t have any intention of stopping until I hit that 90%! We’ve all been sharing our experiences with the food and delicious pictures with one another as we go, and it has been a great time.

I’ve never been quite this enamored with a cookbook before (and I read cookbooks like novels). Damn near every single recipe I have tried in this book has been pretty simple, yet outstandingly good. It has gotten to the point where I can tell my husband–a terribly picky eater–that the meal’s recipe is “from The Book” and he instantly gets excited for it, no matter what it is. Marcella is quickly rising to saintly status in the Cole Kitchen, and I always look forward to seeing what new dishes become family favorites.

I love sharing my cooking experiences almost (or maaaaaybe even a smidgen more) than my beauty reviews, so here I am; back with another collection of yummy images and musings on the recipes I’ve tried since!

Standard warnings apply:

1) This is a long, pic-heavy post!

2) I will not be including any recipes in this post (or any other cook-through post). I have been making a supreme effort to follow each recipe to the letter (which is really hard for an improvisational cook like me) and, as such, I will not infringe on any copyrights here. However, each recipe’s title is listed in full and the page number it is found on is included, if you are so inclined to track it down and make it yourself.

And I do suggest you get the book, if you’re wondering. I’m sure you could Google a lot of these recipes and find them posted pretty much in full online, but–seriously, I want to encourage anyone who is interested in making these recipes to buy a copy of the book (Amazon has a ton used, if you’re searching for a discount). It is phenomenal. Simply the best cookbook on Italian cooking that I have ever read. (And I read cookbooks like novels.) Marcella’s advice is stellar. I love reading her thoughts and, even if she can be a touch persnickety now and then, I think part of what is making these recipes turn out so beautifully is following her directions to the letter.

Anyhow.

Let’s get to what y’all came here for: the food!

baked beetsFirst up is “Baked Red Beets(pg. 558)

I know, I know–those beets are not red. I went to my local farmer’s market that morning with the intention of making this recipe, but the orange beets just looked so much nicer than the red variety that day, so I felt compelled to give them a shot. This was my first time using them and I was not disappointed; they were a little mellower and a bit sweeter than the red I have usually gotten.

I personally love beets, even though there is no denying that they do kind of taste like dirt. That rich earthiness appeals to me now and again, especially when they’re roasted until they get that lovely sweetness to them. Some people (my husband included) just can’t handle that. Oh well; more for me.

Marcella treats these roots very simply after they are finished baking: you just peel, chop, and toss with a mixture of salt, vinegar, and oil. Hard to beat; they were simple and delicious both warm and cold!

smothered onions sauceNext we have “Smothered Onions Sauce(pg. 168)

Mmmmm–we are onion lovers in my house, so this was a total hit.

Again, this is something super simple where the end result is so, so much greater than the sum of its parts. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with a recipe whose main ingredients are onions, white wine, and butter!

sausages in smothered onions sauceI was just going to serve it over pasta (as it is, technically, a pasta sauce listed in the pasta section of the book), but as it was cooking, the yummy onion-wine smell reminded me of a smothered pork chop dish I had made once from Cooking Illustrated. And, it just so happened that I had some of those lovely mild Italian sausages from Whole Foods defrosting (which had originally been intended for a risotto, but–oh well)… Sooooo, that had to happen.

When the sauce had simmered down to a rich, oniony goodness with only twenty minutes or so left to reduce, I browned up the sausages tossed them in as the sauce to braise and–yum. Delicious!

Sauteed Fillets of Chicken with Lemon and Parsley, Siena StyleHonestly, I’m not much of a poultry fan. I really only like chicken when it is at its unhealthiest–fried, smothered in buffalo sauce, or stuffed inside a cheesy quesadilla.

However, this dish–“Sauteed Fillets of Chicken with Lemon and Parsley, Siena Style(pg. 341)–might be the dish to change my mind about chicken.

This dish was so simple, so quick, and so, so tasty. It was done in under twenty minutes and we ate every little bit of it. This will certainly become a weeknight staple in our house. The chicken was super moist and has some lovely, crispy bits around the edges.

The pan sauce that this recipe creates is culinary magic. I not only sopped up every bit I could get on my chicken, but also poured the remainder on the plate over my broccoli/ravioli side dish (below). It was “sop up every trace with some crusty bread” good–and it was so stinking easy! Lemon juice, butter, parsley; that’s really all it was! (Has my overuse of exclamation points proved how excited I was for this dish?)

Sautéed Broccoli with Olive Oil and Garlic with ravioliAlongside the above chicken dish, I served “Sautéed Broccoli with Olive Oil and Garlic (pg. 477)

Again, stupid simple but so darn tasty. Chop, blanch, saute–done.

I tossed some fresh ravioli in among the broccoli as it cooked (kind of giving them a pirogi like texture) and it was an awesome 1 pan side dish to go along with the chicken! (And the chicken pan sauce was pretty amazing on the broccoli/ravioli too.)

saffron pancetta risottoIn November, I kicked things off with trying a second risotto: “Risotto with Saffron, Milanese Style(pg. 246)

This was prefect for the icky, cold weather we were having; especially when I was already in a funk about having to work inventory over the weekend! My crankiness called for something warm and creamy, and I found stirring of this batch to be sort of zen-like.

We ate big servings of this as a meal in and of itself. I maaaay have doubled (or maybe even tripled) the amount of pancetta she called for… but I regret nothing. It was really, really good.

Amatriciana sauceNext was another red sauce; “Amatriciana–Tomato Sauce with Pancetta and Chili Pepper (pg. 157)

Oh man! This one just tied with the beloved Tomato, Onion, Butter sauce! (I know; I know–I am a little surprised to see I typed those words as well. I did not think any sauce, ever, would come close to dethroning the lovely mix of tomatoes and butter.) But… Wow. This was sooooo good and stupid easy.

Everything was on hand and it came together in under half an hour. I went a bit light on the chili to make it husband-friendly (as he does not like spicy things) but it still had great flavor from the onion, pancetta, and cheeses. My can of tomatoes was a touch weak (lots of juice but some sad looking tomatoes) so I added a spoonful of tomato paste to beef it up a bit. It was universally loved. We both kept dipping bread into the pot over and over for just “one more” taste..

Thin Lamb Chops Fried in Parmesan BatterI love lamb, but my husband… Not so much. So, lamb is something I save for nights when he won’t be home for dinner and I’m on my own. I didn’t think I could prepare it in a way more delicious than my standard white wine-garlic-oil marinade… Until I tried “Thin Lamb Chops Fried in Parmesan Batter(pg. 412)

Mother of god.

I would eat a shoe if it was encased in this batter! These really hit the spot; no two ways about it. They fried up beautifully–truly the best pan-fry job I’ve ever done. They were each incredibly crispy, with a lightly Parmesan-y crust that stayed on through each bite–and the inside of each chop was still a perfect medium rare. Nom.

I will be using this breading on pork and chicken too for sure!

potatoesAlongside the lamb chops I served “Baked Potatoes, Onion, and Tomatoes, Apulian Style(pg. 521)

Although I want to gouge my eye out every time Marcella insists we peel a fresh tomato, it was worth the frustration. This side dish was rustic simplicity; simple and delicious. The tomato taste really came through and the onions mellowed to a lovely sweetness as everything baked. It all came together to form a very cohesive final dish.

Mom and grandma both loved it and were already eating it as I came into the kitchen to make the rest of dinner. And grandma said it tastes just like a dish her mother used to make, which always makes me happy.

Tomato and Anchovy SauceThe next thing I tried was with an ingredient I had never tried before: “Tomato and Anchovy Sauce(pg 174)

I was looking for something quick that would use pantry ingredients, yet wasn’t the usual buttery-oniony tomato goodness I default to. I had a jar of anchovies waiting to be used in the pantry… Granted, my husband despises all fish… But he wasn’t home as it was being made so he wouldn’t know and I figured…what the hell!

Unfortunately, I was not all that impressed. I know I like things like Caesar dressing with anchovy in it, but this was my first time cooking with them. They weren’t stinky and didn’t make it taste fishy, per say, but–apparently–their flavor in a red sauce is not my favorite.

I didn’t like it was it stood, so I doctored this batch up with some tomato paste for some extra sweetness and some extra Parmesan simmered into it. That tempered the “off” flavor a bit. This is not a sauce to taste from the pot; the flavor was much too assertive for me that way. Lightly sauced on the pasta was much better but… Still; I wasn’t crazy for it.

Ironically, my husband liked it. Go figure.

Can’t win ’em all, I guess!

Risi e Bisi--Rice and PeasAfter (what I consider to be) a failure with the anchovies, I went back to something simple and bound to please: “Risi e Bisi–Rice and Peas (pg. 92)

Mmmm, so simple and comforting!

Totally doable with all pantry ingredients. Marcella calls for fresh spring peas, which I would certainly have tried to track down… if it weren’t the dead of winter in NJ! Since I needed a dose of yummy-sweet comfort I decided to disobey my Patron Saint of the Kitchen and go with frozen. And, I have to say, if it was this good with the frozen, I’ll certainly make the effort to get some fresh ones next spring!

Anyhow; it was a cold, rainy day when I made this. That kind of weather called for something comforting but simple, and this recipe came together so quick. Its pretty much risotto soup! I ate mine with a slice of toasted garlic-infused bread (cause; carbs!). Grandma also had a bowl and loved it. As we ate she reminisced about how great of a cook her mother was and how this tasted like something she would have made. Anything that results in quality time with grandma gets 5 stars in my book.

Pasta e Fagioli -- Pasta and Bean SoupThe cold, rainy start to the winter kept me on a soup kick for a little longer, as I next made “Pasta e Fagioli — Pasta and Bean Soup (pg. 102)

This is another great recipe that pretty much comes together from pantry staples. Where the Rice and Peas was light and brothy, this soup was rich, hearty, and very filling.

I made two changes to the recipe. I did not have any if the porky bits she recommends on hand, but instead had some diced pancetta waiting to be used. A good change, if I do say so myself! The taste goes well with the tomatoes and beans.

The second change was the beans themselves. I can not for the life of me find the cranberry beans she recommends (dry or canned!) and I don’t care much for kidney beans (they’re just too mealy). Grandma always makes hers version with small white beans, so I did the same–but I only used half the amount Marcella called for, giving myself some room for a few extra helping of the vegetables. Very yummy!

Spareribs Pan-Roasted with Sage and White Wine, Treviso StyleNext up was a visit to the Pork chapter to make “Spareribs Pan-Roasted with Sage and White Wine, Treviso Style

Sigh.

As you can see, those are not spareribs of any shape or form. The grocery store was an absolute mad house that morning (I think the first snowstorm of the year had just been predicted for that evening) and I mistakenly grabbed “country ribs” instead of spareribs, which–you can see–have no actual ribs. ::facepalm:: This cut is more like pork chops than ribs.

Oh well; there was no way I was going back out to brave the loonies buying up all the bread and milk again! So, I went with it. Despite being the wrong cut, it was still tender, pork-y goodness and the flavor was very good. Like most of Marcella’s sauces, I’d eat a shoe if it was coated in that pan sauce.

Will definitely try this again with real ribs, as I bet they’d be awesome.

Pan-Roasted Diced PotatoesAlonside the Spareribs That Were Not Spareribs, I served “Pan-Roasted Diced Potatoes

No complaints or snafus here. I mean, it hard to go wrong with crispy potatoes, right?!

(Is my Irish half showing there?)

Delicious, crispy outside, tender inside potato goodness.

veal rolls with parmesan and pancettaThe following weekend, I again cooked with something I had never cooked before: “Veal Rolls with Pancetta and Parmesan(pg. 369)

I’m not a huge fan of veal, which is why I had never cooked with it. I don’t know why I dislike it, as I love beef, but veal… I don’t know. Something about it just tastes off to me, for whatever reason. My husband, on the other hand, loves it and he’s been dying for me to get into the veal section.

The rolls themselves were just okay to me but were amazing to Phil. He commented that this would be awesome with braciole steak and I agree (and would probably like that much more, in that case).

We both agreed that the pan sauce was–surprise, surprise–absolutely delicious. I’m glad I made a batch of (frozen) garlic breadsticks to go along with the veal rolls, so we were able to sop up all that yummy sauce!

tomato sauce with heavy  creamNext up was another sauce: “Tomato Sauce with Heavy Cream(pg. 155)

Oh myyyyyyyyy!

So rich, so flavorful but still stupid simple. This was kind of like a vodka sauce minus the vodka; lots of sweetness from the veggies with a lovely and, well, creamy-smooth taste. A little goes a long way with this, as it is incredibly rich. For once I thought her estimate of this recipe being six servings was pretty close to true. (Usually I find her off by at least two servings when it comes to her sauces. Or, maybe, we are just saucier than Italians normally are…)

Yum; just… Yum.

I really liked this. So much so that I may have used some crusty bread to wipe out the pot after storing the leftovers…

(I forgot to take a pic of it in the pot or as we ate it that night. Do you like the cameo my little Crockpot lunch warmer insert made instead?)

beef stewThe cold, snowy weather descended upon us (fuck off, Winter) and I once again wanted soupy comfort food. Thus, our next meal from The Book was “Beef Stew with Red Wine and Vegetables(pg. 398)

… Perhaps I should really call this “inspired by” because I doctored this one up quite a bit.

My husband is quite the stew aficionado. Usually, he makes the stew in our house, being one of the three meals he likes to cook and cooks very well. But he wasn’t home and this is my cook-through, so I went for it.

We like some starch in our stew (potatoes, barley, etc.); Marcella, apparently, does not. As she was not eating with us, I made the executive decision to add some quartered baby red skin potatoes (and thus an extra cup of stock to give them enough liquid to cook in). I also realized at the last minute that my celery had frozen solid (fuck you too, pain-in-the-ass refrigerator), so I added an extra carrot instead.

Everything was deliciously tender after about an hour (thank you, Whole Foods meat–that was the easiest, tenderest piece of chuck I have ever cooked!) but… Well, I thought it was rather bland, even with extra pepper. Grandma (who tasted it even before I did) agreed. Maybe that was my fault, do to the potatoes and extra liquid. Not sure, but–whatever. I was not deterred. I added 2 tsp. of the Garlic & Wine seasoning blend I had on hand (from Melting Pot, our favorite date night spot), and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. Much better!

Grandma wasn’t thrilled with the consistency of the broth and, far be it from me to let Grandma remain displeased. I thickened the remaining broth in the pot with a quick cornstarch slurry after it was done cooking, to give it more of a gravy-like consistency.

I loved it. Grandma loved it. My husband loved (and raved about) it. We will certainly make (my version) again.

butter cheeseA few nights later, I wasn’t feeling well. A post-migraine stomach upset made me crave comforting, simple carbs, so I made “Butter and Parmesan Cheese Sauce (pg. 191)

I have to admit, it weirds me out that this is even a recipe.

This is what we grew up eating, from as far back as I can remember, whenever we weren’t feeling well. Mom made it for us when we were little, and then we took over the making of it when we grew up. To this day, I think both my sister and I turn to it when we’re feeling blah or just plain don’t know what else to eat!

I mean–its really just pasta, butter, and Parmesan cheese. Beyond simple, but also incredibly tasty and comforting. Not much too look either but; hey–not everything is pretty.

Can’t go wrong with it. Quick, simple comfort food.

chickeap soupAnother cold, snowy day resulted in another soup: “Chickpea Soup(pg. 112)

Simple and delicious–I love how many recipes in this book are incredibly easy but so darn tasty! I love how creamy the chickpeas are and how simple the broth is.

Since Grandma and I are the only ones in the house who will eat this, I went heavy on the pepper and also added some crushed red pepper flakes and some fresh parsley (because somehow I wound up with a plethora of it… it might be breeding in the fridge..)

Yum.

potato soupTo keep with my soup-making trend, I made one more soup to share in this installment: “Minestrina Tricolore–Potato Soup with Carrots and Celery(pg. 95)

I can see why Marcella said she made this recipe again and again–I’ve never had such a light, delicate tasting potato soup!

I’m a big fan of pretty much any potato soup, but I’m used to them being thick and heavy (rather like loose mashed potatoes). I don’t have a food mill, as she suggests, so I used the potato ricer to get the potatoes finely milled and–wow. What a difference! This one is very light and soup-like instead.

I love the little crunchier bits of the carrot and celery floating in there; I’m glad I heeded Marcella’s advice and let them retain their shape. I think I’ll be making this one again and again too.

whtie bean saladWhile the potato soup was doing its thing on the stove, I also threw together the “Cannellini Bean Salad” (pg. 555)

I’m getting sick of the same boring ol’ salads or sammich for lunch every day at work. Lately I’ve been making a Greek-style chickpea salad but was out of feta (and I think I was out of chickpeas too) sooooo I wanted something new but equally simple that I could toss over some greens.

This fit the bill: stupid simple but hella tasty. The only thing cooked in it are the two hard boiled egg yolks in the vinaigrette; it’s really a dump in the bowl, process, mix, and done process.

Very nice flavor! I like the mix of the herbs and the tang from the vinegar. Went heavy on the black pepper and exchanged the anchovies (which I have been leery of ever since the sauce experiment) for some very piquant green olives, and they added that nice salty-brunet background note.

Very tasty, very easy, very portable; all the things I need for a weekday lunch.

shrimp with tomato and chileThe last recipe I made from the book prior to this post was “Shrimp with Tomatoes and Chili Pepper” (pg. 303)

Holy noms Batman!!

I used crushed tomatoes in this recipe instead of the whole, peeled variety because–well, ’cause I was feeling lazy. Honestly, I think liked it so much this way that I wouldn’t bother trying it with chopped, whole ones next time.

The sauce was straight up amazing. Smooth, bright tasting, and incredibly flavorful, with just a hint of heat. I sopped up every bit of the sauce in my bowl, even though it required going back for seconds of the bread (untoasted, because we had already eaten all the toasted and I just didn’t want to wait for more).

Guh. It was delicious. I’d make this sauce even without the shrimp to eat just like that–sopped up with tons and tons of bread!

But this version did have shrimp, and they too were mighty tasty. They cooked up quick and were perfectly cooked in just a few minutes, once added to that bubbly, hot sauce. All in all, dinner was on the table in under 1/2 hr and that, my friends, is a win.

I doubled the sauce and am glad I did! I saved the rest and told my friends on Facebook that I was looking forward to poaching some eggs in it for breakfast. They expressed some confusion, as they had never heard of such a thing. We’ve always done it in my house (with extra sauce, with extra squash-and-potatoes, etc.), so I’m assuming its a guinea thing. But its an incredibly easy and tasty breakfast that I think everyone should try!

eggs in purgatorySo, as a bonus, let me introduce you all to: Eggs in Purgatory!

This isn’t from the book, but its a damn delicious way to use up extra red sauce of any kind (though I, personally, love it when the sauce has a spicy kick to it, to mix in with the egg yolk).

  • 1/4 cup extra, cooked red sauce
  • 1 egg
  • Toast, for dipping
  • Small pot or skillet, with a tight-fitting cover

Pour the sauce into the small cooking vessel of your choice (just be sure the lid fits it nice and tight). Turn the heat to medium, and bring the sauce up to a simmer.

Crack the egg very gently, being sure not to break the yolk, and slide the egg–raw–into the sauce. Cover and let cook for 3-5 minutes.

3 minutes will give you a runny yolk, where 5 will give you a more well-formed one. Its all personal preference, though I always prefer my yolks warm and runny, and they are killer once you pierce them and mix them into the sauce!

Once cooked to your liking, slide the mix gently into a bowl (or eat it straight from the pot, as I have been known to do to save myself another dish to be washed). Serve with toast and go to town; break that yolk, mix it all up in the sauce, and dip away.

Enjoy!

Verdict…Sort of?

Damn, we eat good in the Cole household.

I really have been loving this whole cook through experience. I can’t get enough of The Book! Whenever I’m at a loss for what to cook and try to look through another cookbook, I find myself getting drawn back to it. I’m learning so much from Marcella and becoming so much better of a cook through these recipes. I just can’t wait to see what I’ll make next!

3 thoughts on “Cooking the Book III: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

  1. Jenny

    I loved your eralier segments of this! after wiping the drool off my keyboard, i quickly added this book yo my Xmas list. Fast forward to present and i am ashamed to admit i havent gotten to making anything from here yet, bunow i’m crazy motivated to! I loved the whole first section of the book. Reading through the ingrideints, and her suggestions. I felt like i learned a lot before i even got to the recipes. So keep these coming! i really enjoy them

    • Thank you for the encouragement! I love cooking from this book and am really happy to hear that people are enjoying reading about my experiences. 🙂

      I’ve learned an amazing amount from this book. Marcella is a great teacher and I’ve come to expect excellence from pretty much anything I make from The Book.

  2. I have been cooking through this cookbook for the last year and have been delighted with the results each time (apart from one chestnut recipe :)) I’ve been cooking and blogging my way through it and, after a year, have reached 105 recipes of the 466 I counted in there. I have no plans to stop. You might enjoy visiting this past blog http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/pomodori_e_vino/ A group of nine friends cooked through the book in just over a year – and Marcella Hazan, still alive at the time, comments on most of their posts. It’s a real treat to read!

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