Most helpful positive review
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
She knows her onions - and everything else
on 3 March 2013
If you're thinking about buying this book, just buy it. I can't say enough good things about it. Since my husband purchased it a few years ago, we've made several dishes from it and each one has been great. It contains a very generous number of recipes, so it's incredibly good value. It has all the old Italian classics - including the last word in ragù - plus lots of lesser-known (but nevertheless delicious) Italian dishes, such as the intriguing stuffed spaghetti frittata. It has antipasti, meat, fish, pasta, bread, pizza, vegetables, risottos, soups, sauces, salads, desserts - basically everything your little heart (and tummy) could possibly desire. It's also full of invaluable advice about equipment, produce and technique.
Signora Hazan (I'd feel a bit disrespectful calling her Marcella, even though that's how she's always been fondly referred to in this house - but don't tell her!) has an instructive, authoritative tone, and she certainly doesn't stand for any nonsense. The key thing for me is that she explains why you should or should not do things in a certain way. Like all great teachers, she wants to take the mystery out of it for you; she wants you to get it right. I'm not a very knowledgeable or experienced cook (to give you an idea, before I got this book I used to make bolognese with, among other horrors*, a stock cube) but I find this book easy to follow and I'm never disappointed with the results. It's not that the recipes are easy in themselves (some are, some aren't) - it's more that she explains things so well that you really can't go wrong. So you feel safe attempting things that are quite ambitious.
I find this book refreshing because it's all about the food. Mrs H succeeds in letting you in on the culinary secrets of the ultimate Italian mamma, without ever resorting to smugly showing off expensive marble work-surfaces or pretending to host a dinner party for a bunch of conveniently photogenic hipsters. (She's 90 - she's way too cool for that sort of nonsense.) This is definitely not one of those cookbooks filled with glossy, high-resolution images interspersed with a few lightweight recipes - so if you buy cookbooks to look at the pictures, this probably isn't the book for you. In fact, there are no photos in it at all. The writing style is very descriptive but, where necessary, there are also hand-drawn illustrations to guide you.
We have bought this book for three other people we know, which I think is a pretty good recommendation in itself.
And last weekend I cooked dinner for my brother and his wife, using recipes from this book. Afterwards, my sister-in-law (herself an excellent cook) said to me, "it's funny - I've known you all these years and I never knew you were such a great cook". I just followed the recipes, the credit is due in its entirety to Marcella - I mean, Mrs Hazan!
*if you must know, other things I have in the past put in my 'bolognese' include: mushrooms, tomato purée, garlic, red wine, peppers, brown sauce, various dried herbs - the more being the merrier, Worcestershire sauce, gravy granules (no, I don't know why either...) and kidney beans. Probably sometimes all at once. Somewhat surprisingly, the end result was always quite tasty (probably because it contained so many different flavour enhancers) but whatever it was it wasn't bolognese. Sorry Mrs H...