There are some culinary giants that are above criticism: Escoffier, who modernized French cooking; Julia Child, who introduced French cooking to America; and James Beard, who introduced American cooking to America, to name a few. Add to that list Marcella Hazan, the housewife turned cook who brought Italian cooking to the English-speaking world through her books. She is remembered for using very few ingredients and turning them into the dishes of legend, but more importantly for being a teacher. The way she wrote, with a fearlessness in saying exactly what she liked and didn’t like, what she did and and didn’t do, what was allowed and not allowed, coaxed–no, demanded–trust from the hesitant home cook, assuring her there could be no wrong if you only followed her very particular directions. Add to that a warm feistiness and a raspy Italian accent and it’s no mystery why she has such devoted followers. She is above criticism, after all.
But there’s another Italian lady, equally esteemed in the culinary world, with equally opinionated teachings, who is not above criticism. She has a nearly cult-like following as well–if She asks her followers to throw away their garlic presses, they immediately rummage through their drawers and toss those sinful tools out the window. They use no Parmesan that is not Parmigiano-Reggiano. They have the 22 Elementary Rules plastered on their refrigerator door. Because that’s what She said.
I’ve decided I don’t want to be that type of cook–one so bound to rules that cooking is just a formula. I prefer failure in exploration over success through a tyrannical recipe. I dread mincing garlic because it makes the cutting board all smelly, my fingers all smelly, and it takes ten times longer than squishing it to pulp through a garlic press, so I don’t want some lady telling me that since pushing garlic through little holes gives it an off taste that chopping it with a knife doesn’t (untrue), I can’t use it. I’ll use it if I want to stinkin’ use it.
Marcella has never done these things of course, but if she did share some similarities with the afore mentioned Italian lady, I’m afraid I couldn’t be that mindless follower. That wouldn’t stop me from loving her all the same and making her recipes, which are admittedly as magnificent as people say they are, but I might press my garlic. I might use TJ parm because that’s what’s in my fridge. All of this hypothetical because Marcella is perfect.
I made a pasta recipe of hers today with fresh clams and quality canned tomatoes. I made it exactly according to her directions of course, but assuming I were to make it a little differently because that’s what I felt like doing, I’ve included what I might have done in the notes below.
Marcella Hazan’s Clam Sauce with Tomatoes
Hazan’s writing, even for just a recipe, is very specific. It’s also has a beauty and a voice that I think would be lost in paraphrasing so here it is in full.
-I used a full pound of clams because you can never have too many clams. I also left a few on the shell because they’re pretty.
-After detaching the clam meat from the shells, I simmered the shells in the pasta sauce. I don’t know if it actually makes the sauce clammier but it made me feel better.
-I used three anchovy fillets and it wasn’t fishy or funky at all. I think the addition of an anchovy (or three) is the secret to this recipe.
-Since most cans of tomatoes come in 14.5 oz cans, which is about 1 1/2 cups, or 3/4 of the called for amount of tomatoes, I decreased the amount of pasta to 3/4 lb and kept everything else constant (except for clams).
-The finish drops of fruity olive oil, something I’d ordinarily skip right over, actually add a lot of complexity to the dish so I recommend listening to her.
-The anchovies and briny clams add enough salt to the pasta. Even using No Salt Added tomatoes, it was plenty flavorful enough without any additional salt.