Marcella Says ...Italian Cooking Wisdom from the Legendary Teacher's Master Classes, with 120 of Her Irresistible New Recipes
Chapter One About This Book
A long time ago I fell in love with a slim, elegant man who had an aristocratic profile, an elegantly trimmed goatee, and a twinkle in his eye. I was eight years old. He was my grandfather Riccardo. I used to snuggle up to him in his big old chair of cracked brown leather that, like him, had a thrilling grown-up smell of tobacco, and he would tell me a story. The stories were about the adventures of Fagiolino and Sandrone, a pair of ludicrously mismatched scamps. Fagiolino - the Italian word for string bean - was tall, very thin, wicked, and devilishly clever. Whenever his scrapes were about to land him in serious trouble, he always managed to slip out of the noose, sometimes by putting Sandrone's neck in it instead. Sandrone was short, fat, fatuous, greedy, and eternally gullible. The only one of these tales from seventy years ago whose plot I can remember has Fagiolino and Sandrone sitting on an embankment by the sea at sunset, a glittering sunset that spilled golden light over the water. Sandrone pokes Fagiolino in the ribs and says, "Look over there how pretty it is, the sea shining like gold!" "You goose," replies Fagiolino, "it isn't like gold, it really is gold, a phenomenon of nature that can happen only when the sun hits the water at a very unusual angle. It may never happen again in your lifetime so take that rowboat tied up at the dock and get over there really fast, before the sun moves, and scoop up as much gold as you can load into the boat. I'll stay here to distract anyone who might catch on to what we are doing." Sandrone falls for it, but eventually he has to row back to shore drenched and shivering, with nothing to show for his struggles but a boatful of seawater. "You are too fat and slow," said Fagiolino. "By the time you got there the sun was already slipping out of the sky and all the gold had dissolved."
My grandfather must have run through his whole repertory several times. Whenever I asked him to tell me a particular Fagiolino and Sandrone story he would say, "You've already heard that one." "Non importa, nonno, it doesn't matter," I'd tell him, "I want to hear it again." I think he enjoyed the retelling as much as I did the rehearing. A good story wants to be told and be heard again and again. It's forever, like diamonds. Or like the flavor of good home cooking.
At It Again?
I can just hear the voices out there saying, "What's this, Marcella? Another book? When you brought out Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, more than ten years ago, you told us it was going to be your final cookbook, but a few years after that you gave us Marcella Cucina, upon whose publication you assured us that absolutely and positively there would be no more cookbooks. Yet, here we go again. What's going on?"
"What's going on?" you ask. For one thing, I haven't stopped cooking yet and, if you like, you could regard the work in this book simply as an update on what continues to take place in my kitchen. I see it, however, as a narrative, a collection of tales that needed telling. Cooking is ideal material for stories. The expression "cooking up a story" is not an accidental one. The gathering and preparation of food is a tale without end, the oldest one in the memory of our race, perhaps the first use to which language may have been put at that prehistoric campfire. In Italy, when people meet and enter into conversation, even strangers, what they eat and what they cook is likely to be their number one topic. Anytime I happen to overhear such exchanges, whether I am on a water bus in Venice or in a suburban train out of Rome or on the air shuttle to Sardinia, it's a nearly sure thing that sooner or later - and it's almost unfailingly sooner - the talk will be about food.
In each recipe there is a story, an adventure with a beginning, a middle and - I hope - a happy ending. The characters that animate those adventures are ingredients, whose actions are prefigured by their dispositions but piloted by the cook, a cook whose role as navigator is succeeded by that of narrator. And that is my justification for writing this book: I have some delicious new stories to tell you.
Stories from Class
My food career began with the classes I first gave in the small kitchen of a New York City apartment in the 1960s. Cookbooks came later, but teaching cooking was my first and fondest love. Each class I taught was for me the enactment of a cooking episode, a performance that I elaborated with comments, flashbacks, and tales of offstage happenings that complemented the action taking place before us. I had so much I wanted to say that each year the class sessions got longer and longer.
In developing the format for this book, I have tried to adopt some of the discursive quality of my classes. After reflection, I chose not to tinker with the traditional recipe groups that I have always used. These familiar categories are the ones that make the most sense to anyone who wants to pick up a cookbook to look for and make a recipe. What I have done instead is to suggest the conversational tone of a lesson through a device that one may think of as a voice from the wings or from the prompter's box.
When I demonstrate a recipe to a small class I alternate between two voices, the instructor's and the friendly experienced counselor's. The instructor says, "Slice up an onion very fine, pour oil in the skillet, put in the onion, sprinkle with salt, turn on the heat to medium low, and cover the pan. Cook until the onion becomes very soft."