I have always loved to cook. I was influenced early on by my Mother and Grandmother. My first exposure to cooking (and eating) was a blend of traditional Midwestern meets southern comfort. Throw in the influences of my Father’s southern Georgia ‘swamp style’, add the ever-fresh meats, eggs, dairy, and vegetables from my Grandfather’s farm, and it’s easy to understand how some of my earliest memories of childhood revolve around meals.
Although I have some natural artistic talents my career has been in banking and credit risk consulting. Not much opportunity in banking for artistic expression. Over the years I have bought the occasional sketch pad and pencils or paints thinking I would find inspiration once again and an outlet for my creativity, but it never seems to stick. What has been a constant though throughout my life is cooking. It has been an outlet for creativity and art all these years that I have only recently come to realize. And although I’ve tried many types of cooking, it is Italian where I finally found my culinary home and my creative expression.
I discovered Italian cooking a couple of years ago when I ran across a well used cookbook during a visit to a used book store that I frequent locally. What first got my attention was that it was well used. I could picture it opened, thumbed through, and splayed open on a counter countless times as its previous owner followed its instructions within. ‘Well used’ has to be the best review of a good cookbook. It was obvious that the previous owner had found it useful enough to return to many times for help and inspiration. Faded spatters of their work can be found throughout. We all probably have those cookbooks on a shelf somewhere that we purchased by the enticing cover or searched out after seeing the author chef whip up a seemingly simple but evocative meal, only to try one recipe or two before abandoning it. No, this book had obvious signs of a rich history with its previous owner.
The cookbook is Italian, The Classic Italian Cook Book by Marcella Hazan. I have to admit, embarrassingly so now, that I had never heard of Marcella Hazan. I had only recently discovered Italian cooking, ok, serious Italian cooking. I’ve always thrown together some sausage and noodle, adding a handful or a pinch of something ‘Italian’ or tried out a new lasagna recipe torn from the pages of a magazine and considered it Italian cooking.
It’s not too often that I actually read a cookbook. As I thumbed through the book on that first day to find a recipe to try and, after reading through an enticing one, I found myself turning to the beginning of the cookbook and reading straight through, cover to cover. Through those pages I learned that true Italian food is not just about the cooking, no it’s about the eating. Through her writing you learn not just how to prepare truly authentic Italian dishes with truly authentic ingredients, but how to eat them as well. How to share in the celebration of the dish and how to share in the passion that is the Italian meal. And it is with that I give a nod to Marcella Hazan as I begin this latest endeavor by naming my blog On The Art of Eating. Mrs. Hazan is widely known to have introduced authentic Italian cooking to the United States through her first published cookbooks and is well-known throughout the world as one of the foremost experts on authentic Italian cuisine. As she writes in the opening pages of her book The Classic Italian Cook Book, “Nothing significant exists under Italy’s sun that is not touched by art. Its food is twice blessed because it is the product of two arts, the art of cooking and the art of eating.”
Although I’ve added additional Hazan cookbooks and other Italian cookbooks to my library this original continues to be my favorite. Even though I may find inspiration for a dish elsewhere I always find myself returning to this book to see “What Would Marcella Do?” I hope to add to its already rich history of useful wear as it is always there open and on the counter.
Lasciati andare in cucina!