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Marcella Hazan: America's grandmother of Italian food

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(Read caption) Marcella Hazan posed in the kitchen of her Longboat Key, Fla., home. Ms. Hazan, the Italian-born cookbook author taught generations of Americans how to create simple, fresh Italian food.

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Marcella Hazan, the author of six cookbooks on Italian cooking and the reason most Americans have a taste for pasta, died Sept. 29 at her home in Longboat Key, Fla.

Before I had heard the news, I had decided last night to make a simple tomato sauce to go over fresh mushroom ravioli. A couple heirloom tomatoes that I had picked up from the farmer's market the week before were threatening to spoil and this was the perfect quick use for them. The process was simple: I sautéed diced onion in butter in a sauce pan until they softened, chopped up the tomatoes and added them to the onions, seasoned everything with salt, laid in a bay leaf, and then let it simmer for about a half an hour, occasionally stirring and mashing the larger chunks of tomato with the back of wooden spoon until the sauce was the consistency to my liking.

Spooning the sauce over the ravioli and topped with grated Parmesan when I took a bite I wondered why I even bother to buy jars of tomato sauce. This kind of simplicity and awareness of how easy and delicious freshly prepared Italian food can be is the direct result of Ms. Hazan, an accidental teacher of Italian cooking to thousands of Americans.

Hazan helped to expand the American definition of Italian beyond spaghetti with dark tomato sauce. She emphasized simplicity and never tired of wining her husband's approval and celebration over a delicious dish.

Born in Egypt Hazan grew up in her father's native Italy as the country was overcome by World War II. Later, in the process of pursuing a doctorate in natural science (she failed her zoology exams three times), she met Victor Hazan, an Italian Jew who had moved to America with his family to escape the war. He had returned to Italy as a young man to reconnect with his roots, ponder literature and art, and consume great food.

In a 2008 Monitor review of her memoir "Amarcord: Marcella Remembers," it is clear that Victor was a significant influence in Hazan's destiny of becoming the mother of Italian cooking in the United States:

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