Marcella Hazan, whose many cookbooks introduced Americans to the true food of Italy, died Sunday morning at her home in Longboat Key, Fla., according to her husband, Victor Hazan. She was 89 and had been in failing health for several months.
Her daughter-in-law Lael Sara Caplan Hazan announced Hazan’s death on her Facebook page. “The world of authentic home cooking has lost a giant today. My mother-in-law Marcella Hazan, melted away peacefully, my father-in-law Victor was at her side.”
Hazan was sometimes compared in importance to Julia Child, and if she never quite achieved Child’s personal popularity, her impact can be measured in the widespread popularity in this country of the cuisine she loved and championed.
Tributes have poured in from fans all over the world, famous and non-famous alike. Television star Rachael Ray tweeted: “In Italy w John for our anniversary & just heard the sad news Marcella Hazan has passed. We will remember her in our hearts & our food.”
British restaurant critic Jay Rayner tweeted: “Farewell to Marcella Hazan. Italian food in this country (and in so many others) would have been much less the poorer without her.”
And fan William Parker posted on Hazan’s Facebook page: “You gave your soul to others, generously and passionately. You taught the world. You brought Italy to life for the world.”
For all of her achievements — seven bestselling books and an army of fans who turned out for every cooking class — Hazan was an accidental cookbook writer. She had earned doctorates in biology and natural science from the University of Ferrara when she followed her husband to the United States in the late 1950s. She began teaching cooking classes to have something to do and was quickly discovered — as were so many cookbook authors of the day — by the late New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne.
“I had never heard of her, but someone said they had just taken fantastic Italian cooking lessons from this woman, so I called her and introduced myself and said I would like to talk to her,” Claiborne told me in 1991. “She said I might come over for lunch, but she made it clear she had never heard of Craig Claiborne. When the article appeared, she was dumbfounded. She became well known to the general public of New York almost instantly.”
Her first book, “Classic Italian Cooking,” was originally published in 1973 by Harper’s Magazine Press, but her writing career really took off when she met famed cookbook editor Judith Jones two years later. Editor of James Beard and Julia Child, Jones bought the rights for the book for Knopf and republished it in 1976. It is still in print more than 35 years later.
“There wasn’t anything like a classic Italian cookbook before Marcella,” Jones once said. “She was really the first to make Northern Italian cuisine available to Americans.”