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

I promised my Cooking the Book posts would continue, so here we are with installment #4: The One Year Mark.

My very first recipe on this cook through of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking was her Bolognese sauce recipe, back on July 4th of 2014. So, this weekend marks my official “One Year” mark.

Originally, back in the summer of 2014, a few friends and I decided that we wanted to try and at least 90% of the recipes of Essentials book over the next year. Obviously, I did not reach that goal. No one did. ::cue the sad trombone music:: We failed across the board. While it was a lot of fun sharing our experiences with the food and posting delicious pictures as we went along, a few people lost steam early on. Not everyone became as enamored with this cookbook as I did. A few of us kept chugging along throughout the year though; turning out Marcella recipes weekly. But–even then–none of us reached that coveted 90% mark.

And to that I say… Oh well!

I have no intention of stopping until I reach my goal. I love this cookbook. I’ve even enjoyed this cook through so much I started a Project Life-style scrapbook dedicated to it, lovingly dubbed “Essentials Experiences,” which housing my pictures and thoughts of the recipes! (And yes; I even keep said book right next to the cookbook on the shelf for quick reference. Also yes; I will totally do a post on that Project Life project if you care to see it. I’m ridiculously proud of it.)

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: damn near every single recipe I have tried in this book has been simple yet outstandingly good. There has only been one flop in the lot for me. (Sorry Anchovy Sauce!) Essentials has earned the nickname of “The Book” around our house (and in our family). I can say I’m making something, and my mother or husband will instantly ask, “Is that from The Book?” Marcella is the patron saint of Cole Kitchen and I look forward to another year of cooking through this fantastic cookbook.

Onto Part IV!

Standard Cook Through 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.

Okay. Now that that is out of the way, I’d like to interject a teeny apology. I was horribly lax in cooking this quarter (which is why I never came close to my 90% goal). Not just from this book, but in home cooking in general. There were some rough months recently for me, health and career-change wise, and we ate far too much take-out. (Ugh; it kills a little piece of my soul every time we order out for Italian, let me tell you!)

On the upside, everything I did make from The Book was a total culinary win. So, let’s get on to the recipes!

tuna tomatoesFirst up is an appetizer-turned-entree: “Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna” (pg. 62)

This recipe is under appetizers but I halved the given recipe down and it made a great light lunch for my mom, grandma, and myself. We kept it simple and served with some toast points for catching the bits that remained after we cut the tomatoes apart.

Really simple tuna salad (tuna, mayo, mustard, caper) but incredibly tasty! Loving the capers. They added a bright, tart flavor with enough saltiness that I didn’t add any additional salt. This was a flavor revelation in our household; both my mother and I have been putting capers in all our tuna salads from that point out! So tasty.

pot roastNext up was a low n’ slow kind of recipe: “Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Amarone Wine” (pg. 395)

Does anyone out there have a clue where I can find Amarone wine? Because I have yet to see it in any of my local liquor stores (some of which are very extensive). Instead, I just did this with a Merlot because… Well, we always seem to have a bottle of Merlot hiding in the pantry. I think they breed down there, in the dark.

I’m glad I forged ahead and tried this recipe anyhow. It was worth every minute of the long cook time. At the end, we were greeted by fall apart tender meat and the gravy this creates is absolutely delicious (both over the meat itself and over the Parmesan mashed potatoes I served it with). My husband, who is the resident pot roast maker, was floored by how delicious it was.

Nom. Just … Nom.

bolognese 2“Bolognese Sauce, Variation of Ragu with Pork” (pg. 205)

My husband is a meat lover through and through. So, if I say casually that there is another variation on Marcella’s beloved Bolognese, it should be no surprise to me that it is requested for dinner that very night.

This is another low n’ slow labor of love; perfect for a Sunday gravy. It was well worth the six hours on the stove. (Granted most of that is hands off simmering time, so it’s not exactly labor intensive. But smelling it cooking all day is kind of torturous…) This version tastes a little lighter and sweeter than the all beef version. While we love the all beef, I thiiiiiink we like this version just a bit more. I’ll probably do the 2:1 beef-pork mix from now on!

I also made a double batch of it that day because…why not? It fed the whole household that night over rigatoni, and there was enough to be baked with cheese ravioli and some mozzarella to make a lazy lasagna during the week. Win.

cauliflowerA few nights later, I made a Marcella side dish to go along with some ranch-style pork chops: “Gratineed Cauliflower with Butter and Parmesan Cheese” (pg. 483)

Hold the presses here, people. I GOT MY HUSBAND TO EAT CAULIFLOWER!!!

::throws confetti::

As you can probably guess, my husband is not a fan of cauliflower. However–I love it. And in this dish? I could have ate the entire bowl myself, as a meal. It was a really yummy way to make cauliflower and I will certainly make it again. Her boil/bake method made this sweet, tender, and buttery delicious.

I ate a shameful amount and my husband ate slightly more than a courtesy portion, so I consider this one a win.

cacatoire“Chicken Cacciatora, New Version” (pg. 331)

I was having a rough weekend (I think I was getting over a cold or something) and really just wanted something I could toss on the stove to do its thang while I did other things. This fit the bill.

Simple, tasty sauce–fresh, tomatoey, but slightly sweet from the oniony goodness. Personally, I liked that sauce over the pasta I served it with better than I liked it on the chicken itself but that’s just one of my weird quirks. I’ve never been a fan of chicken + red sauce, so that fail was more of my personal palette than of the recipe. (Yeah, yeah; I’m strange. I know.)

My husband, however, is a fan of the chicken/red sauce combo, so he was quite happy with it. Good enough for me!

chicken fricasseWe still had more chicken in our freezer begging to be used up, so the next recipe I made was the “Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms, White Wine, and Tomatoes” (pg. 332)

Holy crap–this is the best “mushroom gravy” ever! Seriously delicious; rich mushroom flavor with a subtle acidity from the wine and tomatoes, and a creamy mouth feel from the butter… Guh! ::drools just thinking about it::

I made this with boneless, skinless thighs (because it is what was readily available in my freezer) and, honestly, we didn’t miss the skin one bit (which usually gets too soft during braising for my taste anyway). I think the sauce this makes would be equally good over pork. Or beef. Or a tire.

I served this with mozzarella-garlic bread and we sopped up every bit of that amazing sauce.

broiled steakNext up is the “Pan-broiled Thin Beef Steaks with Tomatoes and Olives” (pg. 387)

This was pretty quick and easy. I loved the sauce but my husband didn’t. Granted, I knew he didn’t like olives before making this one–but he keeps swearing he wants to try to get out of his comfort zone and try new things. I figured he could just pick them out if they bothered him… but even after picking them out wasn’t enough; he pushed the sauce off the meat entirely. Apparently their flavor contaminated the rest of the sauce for him.

::sigh:: Oh well–can’t please everybody.

I, on the other hand, love olives, onions, and tomato so the combo was a win for me. I even mixed the extra sauce (since I only made two steaks but all the sauce) onto my Parmesan couscous and ate that too. Delicious. 

broccoli barleyI think my most used section of this book has been the Soup section. (Although I’m sure Pasta and Chicken come close.) I love Marcella’s soups! As the months get warmer, soup weather goes away… But I sneaked in one last bowl of brothy goodness before the summer descended! “Broccoli and Egg Barley Soup” (pg. 115)

Again: simple and delicious, in so far as the ingredients go. However, I thought that this delicious little number used far too many pots/pans to create a single pot of soup. (Since I didn’t plan ahead, I had one pot going for the barley, another going to par-cook the broccoli, a third pan heated to sauté the garlic… All in a hot, humid kitchen—ugh!)

I used regular barley (go Goya!) since I didn’t have (and couldn’t make) egg barely.

I wished I had made a double batch; it was very tasty.

“Risotto with Sarisotto with sausagesusages” (pg. 257)

Once upon a time, I was scared to make risotto. I am so infinitely grateful that a dear friend broke me of that fear. I love risotto and I love being able to whip some up any time I want. And, honestly? I haven’t had a bad Marcella risotto yet!

Although I hated myself 10 minutes in, in the 85-degree kitchen with two burners going and a pot to keep stirring, it was well worth the effort. This was super tasty–rich and creamy, but not exactly heavy. A great stand-alone risotto that pretty much made itself a meal. All we needed to go with it was a salad.

Although Marcella recommends a mild sausage only, we were out of our favorite Whole Foods mild Italian sausage and I had to make due with the local Stop n’ Shop’s selection. We’re not fennel seed fans and most of the mild sausage selection had lots of fennel in them, soooooo I made the executive decision to do a blend of hot and mild sausage instead.

It was a winning decision, if I don’t say so myself.

lamb skewersIn early June, things warmed up considerably and that means only one thing in the Cole house: grilling season. (Well, and air conditioner season but that’s not nearly as fun.) One of the grilled recipes I’d had my eye on all winter was the “Arrosticini Abruzzesi–Skewered Marinated Lamb Tidbits” (pg. 83)

Again, this is in the appetizer section but we ate these as an entree–and I am very glad we did. Two skewers each made a perfect protein portion and… Wow. They were total and complete nom!

The marinade was stupid simple and incredibly delicious ; it came together in under 2 minutes. It made for some tender tasty lamb, let me tell you. (Costco lamb, how I love you so!)

…and I think anything with “tidbits” in the title is a win by me. It just sounds fun!

If you like lamb, definitely make this one.

artichoke gratinAlongside the lamb I served “Gratin of Artichokes, Potatoes, and Onions” (pg. 458)

How did this escape my notice for so long?! This is another side dish I could totally eat alone, as an entree.

Its not much to look at (sorry!) but I promise you, this stuff was incredibly tasty. Buttery soft potatoes, nutty Parmesan cheese, mild yet earthy artichoke flavor, and a sweet note from the semi-caramelized onions? Culinary win right there.

My husband loved it too (and he’s not thrilled with artichokes, generally, so I was surprised to see him go back for seconds). Aaaaand then mom and grandma ate the rest that I was hoping to save for tomorrow. ::sigh::

Double batch next time…

zucchini“Zucchini with Tomatoes and Basil” (pg. 534)

Summer veggie perfection!

This mix was delicious over roasted spaghetti squash, or a over bed of baby arugula for a lighter meal.

I forgot the parsley (doh!) and kind of, sort of made up for it by doubling up on the basil. Although, honestly, if I had had the parsley I probably still would have doubled up on the basil. Because I’m just a basil whore.

eggsFor lunch one weekend, I delved back into the under-utilized appetizer section for “Hard Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce” (pg. 53)

Essentially, these are Italian-style deviled eggs. I love deviled eggs. However, I don’t normally consider them lunch fodder with all that mayo and whatnot… These? Not a speck of mayo. Healthy deviled eggs are back on the menu, boys!

So. Capers in tuna salad was already a known win for us. Capers in egg? Also freakin’ delicious. I will be putting capers in my egg salad from now on too, thanks to Marcella.

I strayed from the recipe just a tiny bit. She called for diced red bell pepper atop the eggs, but I had no fresh peppers. I did, however, have a jar of Trader Joes Hot & Sweet Cherry Peppers. They were a delicious substitution!

tomato sauce garlic basil“Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil”(pg. 156)

Our basil plant went through an early growth spurt and tried to take over the backyard. Since I lacked pine nuts to make pesto, it seemed the perfect time to make this sauce instead. (The quick 25 minute cook time helped make up my mind. It was a lazy book-editing-heavy weekend.)

Lots of garlic in this sauce (five cloves) but Marcella was right; since you do not cook it first, it poaches in the hot tomatoes and really adds a great mellow garlic flavor to the whole thing. That mellowness played very well with the heavy basil note.

Remember: I’m a self professed basil whore. I may have gone a little overboard buuuuuuut more basil = more delicious to me. I loved it. My husband loved it. We both wiped up every bit of sauce with some crusty Italian bread.

Another sauce win.

pestoI finally got some pine nuts (and holy shit–those little bastards are expensive!) so it was time for “Pesto by the Food Processor Method” (pg. 176)

Not bad but not great. I’ll use it all up, but I wasn’t wowed by it.

Honestly, I’ve had better bottled pesto and this first attempt at making homemade didn’t come anywhere close to being as yummy as the fresh tub I usually pick up from the our local farmer’s market. Not sure what went wrong. It just tasted… Off. And, while I only added a tiny pinch of salt, to the basil-oil-nut-garlic mix, as she says to it was also a touch too salty.

Y’all know I’m a cheese lover too, but–in this instance–I felt the cheese flavor overpowered the basil. Aaaaand I really wanted more of a basil punch. Humph.

Maybe this would be better over a heartier starch, like gnocchi or even just potatoes. Or paired with fresh mozzarella and a nice ripe tomato on a panini. Mmmm; yeah. I might try that with the leftovers…

frittataNext up was my first foray into frittate: “Frittata with Cheese” (pg. 279)

Fluffy, tender, and delicious.

Normally I’m not fond of “set” eggs. I prefer my yolks runny or my scrambled eggs loose. My husband is more of a well done scramble or omelette guy (though I recently introduced him to the deliciousness that is egg yolk + bacon). So, rarely do we agree upon eggs. This, however, was really tasty and we both liked it.

I used Parmesan but cut it down to 1/2 cup rather than a full cup. It was perfectly cheesy to us and I don’t think it needed the other 1/2 cup.

Seeing how easy this was, I will certainly make it again. Although I have my eye on the frittata with onions for next time…

mixed begMy Year One was coming to a close on July 4th and I knew we wouldn’t be home to cook that day, so I frantically searched for two recipes I could squeeze in at the zero hour on the 3rd. The first of those two was the “Mixed Baked Vegetable Platter” (pg. 539)

In hindsight, I should have cut my potatoes smaller. This dish took almost an hour for them to cook all the way through, which was a bummer, but–oh well. The tomatoes were mushy and sweet, the peppers were tender and… well, do I even need to sing the praises of roasted onions? In the end, everything was very tasty.

Loved the roasted tomatoes and onions most of all, and the olive oil/juices left in the pan were delicious too.

salsa verdeThe other quick recipe I tossed together that night was “Piquant Green Sauce–Salsa Verde” (pg. 42)

Oh man, where has this one been all year?!

I’m not a huge fan of chicken, unless it’s breaded or in some sort of sauce. So, when I decided we were just doing a simple grilled chicken for dinner with the mixed veggies, I looked to see what sauces Marcella had for me to dip in. I had everything for this one in the pantry so it won by default.

Very glad I tried it! It was lovely; herbal and tart–just my kind of flavor! It was also very good over the mixed baked veggies we are along with the chicken.

So, that is the show, folks. Those are all of the recipes I’ve made in this “fourth quarter” of my cook-through.

If you’d like to see the first three installments, you can find them here:

Year One Verdict

I have loved every minute of cooking through this cookbook. Hands down; plain and simple. I love Marcella’s recipes. Her no-nonsense style of writing is straightforward and while you might think she’s being a finicky $&^@! asking you to do something incredibly frustrating (like peeling a fresh, raw tomato)–she has her reasons. Every step is worth the effort in the end. I have learned so much by cooking her recipes this past year. She has made me a better cook and I wish I could thank her for it.

As of right now, I have made 75 of recipes in the past year, out of 484 (counting all the variations and so forth). I really would love to push myself to complete the challenge on Year 2 but that means I would need to do another 361 recipes this coming year, to hit the 436 recipes that would equal that 90%. That would be a ridiculously big increase over this past year… But I will try to do it. I want to do it. And if I can’t? Well, fine; this might be a three or four year project! One way or another, I’m getting there dammit! (And then, in true Cole fashion, I want to move on to tackle an even bigger book to cook through but shhhhh–we’ll burn that bridge after we’ve crossed it!)

So I will push myself to make many more of Marcella’s recipes in the coming year and continue to regal you with my kitchen experiences every few months. Sections that were sorely neglected in Year 1 (most notably “Gnocchi,” “Frittata,” “Veal,” “Desserts,” and “Focaccia, Pizza, Bread, and Other Special Doughs”) will get special attention in Year 2, I promise.

See you soon in Cook Through Year 2!

4 thoughts on “Cooking the Book IV: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

  1. Wonderful to read that someone else is tackling the book and loving it. I was going really well last year, but this year circumstances have made it a little harder….but I still journey on and (apart from two failures) have never been disappointed. I love the book! Your photography is great. Keep up the good work.

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