An Interview with Giuliano and Lael Hazan

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Cook book give away: I never set out to cook from a cook book. Spinach Tiger was going to be all about “creating” my own recipes, taking culinary freedoms mixing and matching ingredients and cuisines you’re not supposed to, like making Italian food using quinoa. (The sound you heard was rolling over in the grave). After trying to write down exact recipes, I have a new respect for cookbooks, and you can find out about the give away below.

But, here I am diligently cooking the legendary Marcella Hazan’s recipes from the book that was just named the number one cookbook of all time by the Village Voice New York Food Blog. And because of twitter, I met her charming daughter-in-law, Lael, who just began blogging (the Educated Palate), and introduced me to her warm husband whom I knew I would love when I read this quote from his website:

“In Italy, cooking and eating are not chores, they are one of life’s gifts that nourish the soul as well as the body.” Giuliano Hazan

While twitter was forming our friendship, I thought maybe, just maybe, they would agree to be interviewed. Of course, you know what I’m thinking. Guiliano was there watching Marcella cook, learning, eating, and experiencing what had to be the best culinary childhood in the world. I want to know what he thinks about food, food blogging, his cooking school and does Mama Marcella still cook. I had so many questions and they were both so gracious to respond.
To Guiliano’s credit, he has been teaching cooking for over thirty years. Giuliano and Lael run a cooking school in Italy and Giuilano teaches classes in seminars across the country. He was named 2007 Cooking Teacher of the Year, acclaimed by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

The Interview

We are cooking out of your mother’s book to learn the essentials of classical Italian. If we were to supplement with some of your recipes, which book would you suggest?
Thirty Minute Pasta is my newest book, and gives simple recipes that still stay true to the heart of authentic Italian food. Another option is Every Night Italian, as most recipes don’t take longer than 45 minutes.

Out of the Essentials Book, which recipes would be ones for us to not miss? The group wants to have a true foundation for Italian cooking, and some will spend the day making meat broth from scratch and will travel to get ingredients. In other words, they are serious cooks.
Lael is amused to respond with “Engagement Chicken.” You must try “Engagement Chicken” or known in Marcella’s book at “polo limone.” It’s a simple roast chicken stuffed with lemons, and the lure surrounding it is that it cinches the deal. Obviously, my ears perk up, as I’m a long believer in food’s enticement, and I told them I should put that on the menu for Valentine’s Day.

What dish should one who wants to really say they can cook Italian be able to make?

Giuliano: The classic vegetable soup, the minestrone exemplifies Italian food. In the end you can taste the flavor of each ingredient. They don’t’ become just one taste. You can taste each individual ingredient. Lael: Making your own pasta. (Of course, there is so much more they could speak to this question, as simple is not easy).

Do you make your own pasta?
Giuliano. Of course, and we have a pasta drawer. (We talked about resting the pasta, etc. and I welcome you to read more about pasta making here at Spinach Tiger). Again, simple, but needs the right instructions.

How would you define what makes a dish “Italian.”
Giuliano: Cuisine is very similar to language if you listen to someone speak you can usually tell by someone where they come from. Simple clear flavor not heavy sauce. But you recognize it.

Simple doesn’t mean easy or plain. It’s important to use the best ingredients, cook simple and have each ingredient make sense.

For Lael, I’m not sure of your background, so perhaps you can fill me in, as far as your love for Italian food, and how involved you might be in the cooking and teaching?
My contribution in our cooking school is Food history, understanding the food. Lael is very well schooled in the regional nuances of Italian cooking) and has started a blog, called the the Educated Palate.

Lael, can you give me some examples of what Americans or non-Italians might not know about Italian food?
Pasta in Veneto. (Venice). People assume pasta is indigenous to every region, but pasta is fairly new to the north, as rice has always been the dish over pasta.
Another is the lack of garlic. An owner of one of the premier restaurants in Venice judges a restaurant by the smell. He won’t eat in a place that smells of garlic. (I laugh because my mother is the same way, in fact, to the point of obsession, but she is right.)

Lael continues to explain: Italian cooking is very localized. It’s very regional. One would not order Steak Fiorentina in Rome. There are particular dishes only prepared and eaten in those regions.

(Italians are funny, and we talked about the way that I grew up. Whichever part of Italy you are from, you think is the best. I remember my grandmother’s attitude and protective stance about the food from Naples. To this day, we cannot quite repeat my great grandmother’s cooking. It’s an attitude. It’s ingredients. It’s the art of editing and balancing. And, it’s confidence in your own palate. )

What is it like to cook for Marcella?
Giuliano: I enjoy it. She likes what I cook. She still enjoys a meal that she didn’t have to prepare.

How much you differ in your approach? Or is there something that could be considered the “Hazan” approach?
Authenticity, simplicity, flavor. No competing flavors. Each item has a purpose. What we don’t differ in is the flavor of the food, the genuine taste memories, perhaps our approach.

My mother is more of a traditionalist. For example, she swears by using only dried beans. I’m perfectly happy using canned. In the end, we will achieve the same flavors.

What are some common mistakes that cooks make when cooking Italian food?
Overdoing it. Let’s add this or add that? It’s hard to hold back.
Italian food seems to be universally loved. Why do you believe it’s true?

You teach in your school in Florida and in Italy? What do people most want to learn when taking your classes?
To be confident in kitchen and recreate dishes.
Techniques and tips…explaining makes food more approachable.

What do you most want to teach?
Technique that makes things easier. How to dice onions with two cuts and no chopping. A painful procedure made simple.

What do you think Marcella would think of food bloggers, Cooking Italy, cooking her food and photographing it for the world to see and be inspired by?
She would be honored and gratified that there is such interest and dialogue around her food.

What might surprise me about Marcella?
She likes a good hot dog.

Does Marcella still cook?
Yes, she still enjoys cooking and just recently made her husband the green lasagna for his birthday. (I immediately decide that will be on the December “Coolking Italy” schedule).

How have you responded to the diet craze and the reputation of pasta?
Pasta is a healthy choice. One reason is that it’s satisfying. Cooking at home for the family is healthy, as it brings the family together. The sauce is the seasoning and stretches the pasta.

Do you have a favorite recipe from that book, one we should not miss? (I personally can’t wait to try tagliatelle with peas.)
Lael quickly responds with “spaghetti al melone.” Of course, I’m immediately excited because I like unique dishes that don’t need mail ordered ingredients. But then Giuliano quickly reminds both of us that melons are not in season and his recommendation would be to start with fusilli with broccoflower. This makes sense with the discussion Lael and I had about the essence of Italian cooking (in Italy) which greatly varies from region to region, and much of this has been determined by local availability and strict traditions.

Lael mentioned the slow food movement, which was created in 1989 by an Italian, and one part of the slow food movement is to keep local food traditions alive. However, it’s much more than that, and now there is a slow food movement in Nashville, which will benefit not only the local farmers but the consumer as it encompasses the quality of the food from beginning to end. This very “Italian” attitude that is so protective of the methods of producing food has touched nearly every part of the world’s food attitude.

For the home cook who may not have access to a lot of ingredients (our readers and group are from all over the world), but wants to stock the kitchen with the basic essentials, what 5 ingredients do you recommend?
• Olive oil
• Salt – which brings out the flavors, sea salt, without adding any.
• Parmigiano reggiano
• Onions which are used in just about every other Italian dish.
• Red wine vinegar for salad

Not balsamic? No, balsamic vinegar should be of the finest quality and used sparingly. It’s okay to use it in a salad, but it should be in addition to some red wine vinegar. One of the things that Marcella is disappointed in is the overuse of the balsamic. (I’m disappointed in the use of bad quality balsamic).

And a surprising sixth ingredient:
• Observation and instincts

Things don’t always cook the same. You must be able to see what is going on in the pot, and respond. (I couldn’t agree more. A recipe must be a guideline, not law, and it’s the only way to build culinary confidence).

What would like to tell my readers?
Cook for yourself and your family as a way to show them your love.

You can watch Giuliano Hazan cooking on January 14 on the TODAY SHOW.

Lael Hazan has a local radio show called Focus on Fabulous Food.

Spinach TIger Notes:
Giuliano did not ask me to endorse his cookbooks. I purchased the 30-minute pasta book myself, so I could have my own opinion. What I like most about the idea of easy pasta dishes, is that it’s not about cutting corners; it’s about making the best ingredients work with a minimalist viewpoint. It approachable, and uses ingredients that are accessible. It promotes healthy eating and is budget conscious. It’s for the every day cook and the gourmand alike. Most pasta dishes, in even the best of restaurants, don’t require a lot of time, unless it’s baked. Cooking the pasta recipes will teach you how to bring a few flavors together to make spectacular food every day without compromising.

I have been in many kitchens watching women struggle to cook for their family, stretching budgets and working under time constraints, and not really knowing how to cook, or what to do with seasonal produce.

The 30 Minute pasta book will steer you in the right direction and bring your family nourishment, for their body and for their soul. Bring them into the kitchen to cook with you, and create a pass time that allows you to face each other and have conversation, while tasting good food. This forms a different kind of relationship with your children, knowing more about you than what the back of your head looks like as you drive them from activity to activity. This is why we say food and love go together.

Win Giuliano Hazan’s Newest Cookbook, Thirty Minute Pasta. (USA only)

You need to do two things:
1. Tell me your favorite
Cooking Italy recipe to date.
2. Name one of Giuliano’s essential ingredients from this interview.
Put them in one comment here.
Make sure I can get in touch with you, by link back, email, or twitter address.

Extra chances to win:
Tweet about this give away. Mention @SpinachTiger.
That’s it, and Good Luck.
Drawing Held on November 10, when I return from Food Buzz Festival.
Look for Announcement on twitter.

Post Note: Congratulations to Natasha of 5 Star Foodie for winning


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