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Cooking with the Hazans: the best kept secrets of the Italian kitchenTranslated from Italian for CNN.com/Food
ATLANTA (CNN) -- The Hazan name is synonymous with great Italian cooking. However, the Hazans are not the owners of celebrated Italian restaurants in Manhattan or in California, as one might expect. Rather, they are master teachers of culinary art who ply their trade both in Italy and the United States.
This family team is committed to writing about Italian recipes, gastronomy and winemaking to teach Americans the tastes, traditions, methods and history of Italian cooking.
Son Giuliano Hazan says "teaching fast, fresh cooking made with simple yet good ingredients" is the focus of his latest book, "Every Night Italian" (Scribner, 1999). The cookbook, published in the United States last December, aims to prove that Italian food, besides being tasty and healthful, is also easy to prepare every evening.
The trick to making good Italian cooking a daily habit, Hazan says in the introduction, is learning to be efficient in the kitchen -- having three or four basic ingredients readily at hand, and using easy preparation techniques.
"Every Night Italian" follows Hazan's best-seller, "The Classic Pasta Cookbook" (Dorling Kindersley, 1993), a practical guide to the preparation of sauces, dressings and more than 100 pasta dishes. The book sold half a million copies in the United States, was translated into 12 languages and distributed in more than 16 countries.
Familiar 'taste memories'
Hazan, interviewed by CNNItalia, reveals his secret for choosing a recipe for one of his cookbooks: "It must have an Italian taste," he says.
"When people ask me, 'But what is an Italian taste?' I usually answer that it's something hard to define. It is something that one has developed growing up or eating in Italy over time; it's not something that can be described in a few words. It's a matter of taste memories," he says.
One of Hazan's earliest taste memories is still fresh in his mind. "I was 2 years old and I was with my grandmother in Italy, in the town of Cesenatico," he says. "My grandmother had cooked a dish of tortelloni di biete con un sugo di pomodoro (a large, square dumpling, usually stuffed with Swiss chard or spinach, seasoned with a simple, fresh tomato sauce).
"After eating an adult portion, I suddenly dropped my head on the table. My grandmother, really afraid, called the doctor who reassured her, saying, 'Madame, do not worry. Giuliano is happy. He is just sleeping.'"
Born in New York, Hazan spent his formative years in Italy. He is proud of having being raised not only in an Italian home but also in an Italian kitchen.
"I grew up in a family to whom eating well was important. Dinner time was the best moment of the day. Moreover, when I was a kid, I always liked being in the kitchen to observe my mother cooking. In particular, I always liked stirring the risotto."
And in the kitchen Hazan had an undisputed master as his teacher -- his mother, Marcella. Marcella Hazan has published five Italian cookbooks in the United States and is recognized as the doyenne of classic Italian cooking by some of the most authoritative representatives of gastronomy in the country.
A family business
The Hazans' culinary adventure in America began in 1969. Marcella Hazan, a mathematics and biology teacher, moved to New York with her husband Victor, who had set up a business there. She began teaching classic Italian cooking in her spare time to some friends who gathered in her apartment once a week. Those lessons were such a hit that Marcella Hazan decided to collect the "revolutionary" recipes in what became her first book, "The Classic Italian Cookbook" (Knopf, 1973).
In 1976, the Hazans settled in Bologna, Italy, where Marcella opened a school to teach non-natives the secrets of classic Italian cooking. Two years later, Victor left his business and joined the school, giving lectures on regional Italian cooking and winemaking. The Hazans' students in Bologna have included such luminaries as the late actor Burt Lancaster.
After Bologna, the Hazans moved to Venice, where they spent 16 years. In the kitchen of their home -- a top floor apartment in the 16th century Palazzo Contarini -- Marcella and Victor Hazan continued offering cooking classes in English, in conjunction with the legendary Hotel Cipriani.
Giuliano Hazan, meanwhile, remained in the United States. After college and a two-year course in theater, he decided to invest the experience he had acquired first as an assistant and then as a teacher in his mother's school.
He worked as a chef in some of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in the United States before deciding that life among the pots and stoves in a busy commercial kitchen was not for him.
"I prefer teaching and traveling in search of new recipes," he says.
Not only pizza
Americans love Italian cooking for its fresh and genuine ingredients. However, it is only in the past couple of decades that classic Italian cooking has become fashionable in the United States.
"The current idea of classic Italian cooking in the United States is changing," maintains Giuliano Hazan. "Until 15 years ago, people here didn't know exactly what real Italian cooking was. Now, I think people have a better idea of the variety and even of the refinement of Italian cooking."
Hazan says several factors explain this shift. More books have been written on the subject, and restaurants have had the courage to offer real Italian food, rather than what their customers might have been expecting.
New ingredients have been introduced to the market, such as arugula, radicchio and porcini mushrooms. The fact that the Italian cuisine has been associated with the healthy Mediterranean diet also helps. And ultimately, people travel more than they used to.
"Now, for example, it is really fashionable to travel to Italy, and even enroll in cooking classes there," Hazan says.
Following in his parents' footsteps, Giuliano Hazan gave birth to a new idea. Next fall, he will open a school of classic Italian cooking in conjunction with the Allegrini family, distinguished Italian wine producers.
The one-week hands-on classes, taught in English by Giuliano, will be held in a Renaissance mansion near Verona, Italy, at Villa Giona. Groups of 12 students -- "to guarantee both their participation and individual attention" -- will have the chance not only to learn the art of of Italian cooking, but also to take part in gastronomic tours.
For example, they will visit a frantoio (oil-press) where olive oil is made and a mill where rice is processed for risotto. They also will go to see Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese being made, and to taste rare culatello (a fine air-cured ham).
Cooking with children
"I am planning to write a book on how to cook together with children," adds the ebullient Hazan. "I have a 1-year-old daughter and I would like to see how it will work cooking with her in a while."
After all, Hazan himself was quite young when he cooked his first dish in public.
"When I was 12 years old, my school organized a trip to the countryside for a week. Everybody had something to do, such as cutting the wood or other jobs. The food was really bad, so I decided to cook a lasagna dish. I didn't know what a complicate job I had chosen, but I called my mom who gave me the proper instructions."
Hazan does not say it, but he lets us assume the dish was a success.
Group seeks to preserve Italy's traditional table
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