The hours went by and the sun rose again, around 10am the delivery man rang the bell and I had my mysterious pouch in my hands.
It was Giuliano Hazan's new cookbook "Hazan Family Favorites". I immediately brought it with me in my usual coffee shop and started my reading meal. Page after page, I wanted to get a clear idea of this book so to write a proper review that you all would appreciate.
They do say to never judge a book by its cover but in this case you should. The book design has been so cleverly done that right from the front cover you have a taste of the warm oranges and dark terracotta colors you will meet inside. Joseph De Leo's cover photograph showcases a selection of dishes that makes your mouth water right from the start, with the rare beef-tagliata and the baked tomatoes with crispy toppings right there asking to be eaten.
As with every good Italian meal, Giuliano's new cookbook tingles your appetite as you flip through its pages. As the Hazan's family meals evolve under your eyes, course after course, you wish you could plunge a fork right into those pages.
Memories are also made of images, and this book is filled with shots directly from the Hazan family's album. We see young Giuliano in Cesenatico (Italy) spending time with his grandmothers, riding his bike or fishing with his grandfather. Marcella and Victor, Giuliano's parents, show up too in some heartwarming portraits; the look Marcella gives Victor while he shave white truffle over her risotto is simply unforgivable for its tenderness.
Across the road, we witness the cooking gene passed along the generations when we see Gabriella, one of Giuliano's daughters, cook a meal; building up those memories of which this book is a witness to.
Back to the food now. The recipes Giuliano has chosen to share with us are perfectly suited for any daily meal. Simple, straightoforward and clearly explained; only a handful of recipes are more than 1 page long and with more than 10 ingredients (including salt and pepper).
As every good Italian would be expected to do, I particularly loved his pasta dishes. Many recipes made my mouth water wishing to have pasta back into my life, but my all time favorite must be Giuliano's "Maccheroni soup with Sausage and Porcini".
Many are the vegetarian dishes featured in the book, starting from the frittatas down to many risotto recipes.
The meat and fish dishes, loyal to Italian traditions, are very simple too. The aforementioned beef tagliata of t-bone steak cooked rare and served with a parsley and garlic sauce will definitely prove your fork-stabbing instincts.
The Hazan family bares the typical cross-cultural background as many Mediterranean families. Marcella's mother, Nonna Mary, people though originary from Italy, have since long been living in Syria and Egypt while Victor's family originates from Spanish Jews who emigrated to Turkey back in the XVth century.
This melting pot of Middle Eastern and Italian traditions are evident in dishes like Nonna Mary's Bamya, a baked okra dish, or Nonna Giulia's Baklava.
Giuliano's wife, Lael, also contributed to the family traditions with her meatloaf, responsible for introducing ketchup into the Hazan's cookbooks.
The dessert chapter is sleek but filled with memories, with Nonna Mary's Ciambella, Nonna Giulia's Baklava and some of Marcella's own specialties like the Diplomatico cake.
What about the food photography in this book? Joseph De Leo has done simply a great job in putting onto pictures the timelesness of family traditions with his simple, straightforward styling and still-life compositional approach.
To be honest though, despite the overall very positive impression I had from the "Hazan Family Favorites" cookbook, few points left me doubtful. Many made my recipe-developer side scratching his head and one actually was more "heartfelt".
In intrducing his Eggplant risotto, Giuliano mentions how this was inspired by the Sicilian classic "Pasta alla Norma" that, despite what has been written, does NOT have mozzarella on top but Aged Ricotta cheese. According to my mother, mozzarella was introduced in Sicily only around the 60s; the only other cheese that was widely used in Sicilian cuisine was Caciovallo a kind of provola cheese.
Now to the recipe-developer side. In his frittata recipes, Giuliano's never ask to season the eggs he uses and this may very likely result in a bland frittata; also since there is no heads-up on overseasoning the other ingredients.
The second point is about his Bechamel sauce. Normally it always features both nutmeg and black pepper as seasoning but in this case, he leaves the seasoning to the bare salt. No problem for a Lasagne dish where the Bolognese meat-sauce is already nicely seasoned, but in a light dish like his baked Crespelle with hamd and cheese I think the lack of spices would make the bechamel a bit bland.
The third and last point is more from a food-scientist point of view. In various of the dessert recipes, Giuliano advices us not to mix baking powder with salt because the latter could inhibit the action of the baking powder. I am sorry to say that this is false. Salt has an effect on leavening ingredients, but only when they are alive like in yeast. Salt kills yeast bacterias while baking powder is a mixture of an acid and alkaline compound simply activated by water and heat.
So, what did I choose to cook from the "Hazan Family Favorites" cookbook? Honestly it was hard to pick just one recipe but at the end I chose to recreate one of Giuliano's all-time favorite: Nonna Mary' Swiss-chard tortelloni.
Considering that I can't have pasta in these days, I decided to interpret the filling as a form of Gnudi (kinda gnocchi) served with Marcella Hazan's alltime-classic onion-butter-tomato sauce. To keep the bite that fresh pasta provide the original dishes, I wrapped the gnudi with almonds that are then crispen up when cooking the gnudi.
So here you have my tale of Giuliano Hazan's swiss-chard tortelloni with Marcella's tomato sauce:
Ingredients (serve 2 as light lunch):
For the Onion-Butter-Tomato sauce:
- 1 small onion, minced
- 40g butter
- 250g canned tomatoes with their juice
- salt and sugar
For the gnudi (make roughly 6 of them):
- 200g Swiss chard leaves
- 15g butter
- 1/2 small onion, minced
- 15g prosciutto, thinly sliced and chopped
- 1 tablespoon almond meal
- 1/4 cup whole-milk ricotta
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 1 L egg yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon egg white
- salt and pepper
- Sliced almond, optional
- 1 tablespoon Butter and vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons of cream
For the tomato sauce, combine in a sauce pan all the ingredients and bring to a slow boil over medium-high fire stirring every now and then. Lower the heat and let the sauce barely simmer, stirring every now and then, until it will have reduced and the butter will start to float on its surface. Season with salt and sugar if needed.
Wash the swiss-chard leaves and transfer them in a pot with a pinch of salt and a little water. Put over medium-high heat, cover and let cook until tender. Drain the vegetable in a colander and sprinkle with some cold water to cool down. Let drain.
Squeeze the excess water from the swiss-chard; transfer on the cutting board and chop it finely with a knife. You should have roughly 1/2cup of chopped vegetable.
In a skillet melt the butter and let the onion cook until golden brown, add the chopped prosciutto and stir. Cook the prosciutto until it will have lost its pinkness; add the almond meal, stir and cook until all is golden brown.
Add the chopped swiss-chard and cook stirring for 5 minutes or so. Let the mixture cool down for 10 minutes.
Combine the sauteed chard with the ricotta, the parmesan, the egg yolk and white and mix thoroughly. Season with a few gratings of nutmeg,a little salt and black pepper.
Make patties (gnudi) with 1-2 tablespoons worth of mixture and cover them with the sliced or chopped almonds. Melt the butter in a skillet with a little vegetable oil over medium-low fire. When it will be nice and warm slide as many patties and they will fit in the skillet without crowding it. Let the gnudi cook for a few minutes on the first side before flipping them over. Let cook for a couple minutes more or until the gnudi will feel slightly firmer to the touch. Slide the cooking on a plate and keep warm while you continue cooking the rest of the gnudis.
Mix the cream into the tomato sauce and serve with the gnudi.
DISCLOSURE: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher.