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Food

Relative greatness

Italian chef Giuliano Hazan carries on mother Marcella's tradition of cooking and teaching, passing the torch to students from Sarasota to Italy.

By COLETTE BANCROFT
Published April 5, 2006


photo
[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
The simple mixing of carrot cake batter has Giuliano Hazan’s students at full attention during a cooking class in Sarasota recently.

SARASOTA -- Giuliano Hazan is demonstrating a cake recipe for a class of 20 rapt students, all perched on stools around a big steel table.

The bearer of one of the most revered surnames in Italian cooking starts cracking eggs. "We're going to separate them, so we can whip the whites."

He does not use a fancy egg separating gadget; he does not use the egg's broken shell. He plops the yolk into his palm and lets the white run through his fingers into a bowl.

"The eggshell method can break the yolk," he says, as students scribble notes. Then he grins. "Plus it's more fun this way."

Hazan has been playing with his food professionally since he was a teenager, and he has been in the kitchen as long as he can remember.

He was pretty much born to the apron: His mother, Marcella Hazan, is the prima donna of Italian cooking in the United States.

In the 1970s, her landmark The Classic Italian Cookbook

expanded American cooks' repertoire far beyond spaghetti with red sauce.

In collaboration with Hazan's father, Victor, a wine expert, Marcella published a half-dozen bestselling cookbooks and for years ran a cooking school in Bologna, Italy.

Giuliano Hazan got his start there, helping his mother at first and then, when he was about 27, leading classes himself.

He began teaching cooking in this country while he was a student at Trinity Repertory Conservatory in Providence, R.I. "I thought I was going to be in the theater," he says. "You might say I am."

His mother has a reputation for being somewhat prickly, but Giuliano Hazan is a warm and patient teacher. His classes in Sarasota are at Casa Italia, an inviting specialty shop brimming with such goodies as marinated white anchovies, gorgonzola dolce and novello olive oil, a sort of olive oil version of beaujolais nouveau. "In November, this was still on the tree," says Raj Mathur.

Mathur has owned the store with his wife, Nita, for 31/2 years. They also teach classes in Indian cooking. Hazan, who lives in Sarasota, has taught at Casa Italia for about 11 years, and his sessions fill up quickly, Mathur says.

"As soon as the season starts and Giuliano is back in town, people start asking about the schedule."

Hazan also teaches around the United States, and in the spring and fall he teaches weeklong courses in "Italian food, wine and life'' at Villa Giona, a restored Renaissance villa near Verona, Italy. He'll do six this year, one made up entirely of alumni.

In March, he taught a packed class in Sarasota how to prepare a typical Italian meal: rustic soup with chickpeas and porcini mushrooms, veal stew with green and yellow peppers, braised fennel with Parmesan cheese and carrot almond cake.

The recipes were his own, except for the cake, adapted from one of his mother's recipes.

The class began at 6:30 p.m., but by 5 Hazan and a helper were in Casa Italia's neat kitchen, prepping the ingredients.

Mary Lou Ferrari, a winter resident of Sarasota, is a member of the elite Coterie de Chaine de Rotisseurs gourmet society. But this afternoon she bustled around the table chopping carrots and shredding romaine and "squooshing" canned tomatoes.

"You want them squooshed, right?" she asks Hazan.

"Little pieces. Squoosh, chop, however you get there."

He's laid-back about measuring Amaretto for the cake - "Let's call that a generous tablespoon," he says with a healthy slosh - but insistent on other details.

During class, one student asks him emphatically, "Do Italians really peel peppers?"

Hazan, busily paring the skin off a yellow bell, says, "They should.

"They're sweeter that way. The skin is tough and bitter."

The class is full of small, practical tips, like how to chop an onion with "the minimum of pain and suffering."

It also includes a short course on the history of his beloved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which stretches back eight centuries. The cheese's method of production is a fiercely guarded heritage, he says.

"Everything starts not just from the milk, or just from the cow, but from what the cow ate."

Several of the students are repeaters. John Szoges and Nicole Gagnon of Sarasota are taking the $75 class for the third time. "His pasta with melon sauce is incredible," Szoges says.

Kay Barberio is on her fourth class, but it's the first time for her husband, Allan. She enrolled him as a birthday gift. "I bought his book, and I was hooked," Allan says.

In a little more than two hours, the students are oohing and aahing over bowls of richly flavored soup, dishes of savory veal and aromatic fennel and slices of delicately flavorful cake.

Hazan and his wife, Lael, have two daughters, Gabriella, 5, and Michela, 21/2 - "very 21/2," he says.

The kids eat "pretty much everything." And he may be raising the next generation of Italian cooking teachers.

"Gabriella is good at risotto, and she can make pasta from scratch. Put the flour and eggs on the counter for her, and she makes the dough."

Colette Bancroft can be reached at 727 893-8435 or bancroft@sptimes.com

VEAL STEW WITH GREEN AND YELLOW PEPPERS

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 pounds boneless veal shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion

11/2 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice, coarsely chopped

2 green peppers

2 yellow peppers (red peppers may be substituted)

1/2 cup heavy cream

Put the butter and vegetable oil in a saute or braising pan at least 2 inches deep and large enough to hold the veal snugly, not necessarily in a single layer. Place the pan over high heat. When butter foam begins to subside and is hot enough to sizzle when tested with a piece of veal, put in the veal cubes. Do not crowd the pan; add only as much veal as will fit in a single layer, browning the meat in several batches if necessary. Once veal is browned lightly on all sides, transfer it to a platter and season with salt and pepper.

Remove pan from heat and add the chopped onion. The pan will probably retain enough heat to saute the onion, but if necessary place it over medium heat; saute until the onion turns light brown.

Add the canned tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and return all the meat to the pan. Once tomatoes begin to bubble, adjust the heat to a gentle simmer. Put the lid on the pan slightly ajar and simmer until meat is tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Stir the stew every 20 minutes or so and check to see if there is still some liquid in the pan. If all the liquid evaporates before the meat is done, add a little water.

While meat is cooking, peel the peppers with a peeler, remove pith and seeds, and cut into strips about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide. When veal is tender, add peppers and cover pan tightly. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until peppers are tender. Add cream, stir for about a minute and serve.

Note: Stew can be made ahead and will keep for several days in the refrigerator. It will taste best if peppers and cream are added just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: "Every Night Italian" by Giuliano Hazan (Scribner, 2000)

GRATINEED FENNEL WITH PARMESAN CHEESE

3 large or 4 to 5 small fennel bulbs

3 tablespoons butter

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated

Butter

Cut off the fennel tops where they meet the bulb and discard. Pare away any bruised or brown spots and cut a thin slice off the bottom. Cut the bulb in lengthwise slices about 1/4 inch thick and soak them in cold water to rinse away any grit.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring to a boil a pot of water large enough to hold fennel slices. Cook fennel in water until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Lift fennel out of water carefully to avoid breaking up slices.

Place fennel slices in a single layer on one or more baking sheets. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with grated cheese and dot with butter. Place in preheated oven and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve at once.

Source: "Every Night Italian" by Giuliano Hazan (Scribner, 2000)

RUSTIC SOUP WITH CHICKPEAS AND PORCINI

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1/3 cup carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice

1/3 cup celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice

3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped

1/2 pound white or cremini mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 small head romaine lettuce, shredded (about 4 cups)

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 cups canned chickpeas, drained

3 cups homemade meat broth, or 1 small bouillon cube dissolved in 3 cups water

Put the dried porcini in a bowl with 11/2 cups water. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened.

Put the carrots, celery, garlic cloves and olive oil in a soup pot and place over medium-high heat. Saute until the vegetables begin to color and the garlic has lightly browned. Remove the garlic cloves and stir in the sage.

Lift the porcini out of the water, squeezing excess water back into bowl. Filter the water through a paper towel or coffee filter and set aside.

Coarsely chop the reconstituted porcini and add to the pot along with the diced fresh mushrooms and the shredded romaine. Add about 11/3 cups of the chickpeas, the broth and the porcini soaking water. Cook at a steady simmer for about 30 minutes, then mash the remaining chickpeas and add to the soup. Cook for another 10 minutes and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: "Every Night Italian" by Giuliano Hazan (Scribner, 2000)

CARROT ALMOND CAKE

9 ounces shelled, unblanched almonds

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

9 ounces carrots, peeled

4 ounces dry ladyfingers

21/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

Pinch salt

4 large eggs, separated

1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch springform pan with 2 teaspoons butter and dust with 1 tablespoon flour.

Put almonds and sugar in food processor and chop as finely as possible. Place in large mixing bowl.

Break up ladyfingers into pieces about 1 inch long, place in food processor and grind to a powder. Add to the almonds and sugar.

Cut carrots into pieces about 1 inch long, place in food processor and chop as finely as possible. Add to bowl, mixing well with other ingredients. Add baking powder, salt and liqueur and mix well.

Add egg yolks, mixing until well-distributed with other ingredients.

Whip egg whites with an electric mixer or by hand until they form stiff peaks. Beat a couple of tablespoons of egg whites into the ingredients in the mixing bowl to soften the mixture, then carefully fold the rest of the egg whites in with a spatula.

Pour batter into prepared pan and shake a bit until batter is evenly distributed.

Place pan in upper level of preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in cake comes out dry.

When cake is cool, cut into 8 to 12 pieces and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 8 to 12.

Source: Adapted from "Marcella's Italian Kitchen" by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, 1995

[Last modified April 4, 2006, 16:52:08]


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