It is evening in Valpolicella, Italy, but a light warm breeze is blowing. A dozen or more people are seated around antique dining tables in the middle of an early 16th century Italian villa near Verona.
The people are laughing and talkative, their wineglasses sparkling and their plates full. The tables are laden with Italian dishes that they have prepared themselves.Tomorrow they will journey together to explore this region of Italy, but tonight is consumed with delicious homemade food, excellent wine and new friends. This night has been made possible by Italian Chef Giuliano Hazan.
Giuliano The Teacher
Giuliano Hazan is in the business of teaching and sharing the wealth of his knowledge about cooking and preparing Italian food. His vast knowledge has been handed down to him primarily from his esteemed mother, Marcella Hazan, who is famous in her own right, but also from other women in his ancestry, his paternal and maternal grandmothers.
In 1976, when Giuliano Hazan was only 17, Marcella Hazan opened up what was the first cooking school in Italy, in Bologna. For eleven years Giuliano helped at the school, during which time such famed celebrities as Danny Kaye, Burt Lancaster, James Beard and the future Mrs. Peter Boyle came to Italy to learn Italian cooking with Mrs. Hazan. During the last two years of the school in Bologna, Giuliano himself became an instructor. For him, this began a lifelong love affair with teaching about food.
Giuliano was born in New York, but from the age of two spent most of his childhood with his father Victor and his mother Marcella living and vacationing in and around Rome, Milan and the family’s original seaside village, Cesenatico. Between long summer days swimming, bicycling and going to the market with Marcella, he relaxed in the aromatic kitchen, his favorite room in the home, watching his mother cook. Marcella Hazan used her sense of smell when cooking, but she relied on Giuliano to taste test her dishes. This also helped to develop his palate. Instead of saying he did not like a taste, he learned to say “I’m not ready for that yet.”
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As Giuliano states, “Italian culture is inextricably linked to food and wine.”
The tours that Giuliano Hazan and his charming wife Lael still offer today, with the collaboration of Marilisa Allegrini and her 250-acre Valpolicella Classico Allegrini vineyards, allow participants to fully immerse themselves in Italy’s food and wine offerings.
The 7-day/6-night tours are currently hosted at Villa Giona (but will soon move to the splendid Rennaissance Villa della Torre). During that week, the Hazan’s try to put as much as they can into the experience. Days are spent on field trips to such places as a rice factory a half hour south of Verona, where skilled artisans use original machinery from 1648 to process rice for risotto.
Another destination is the home of Salvagno olive oil, an Italian company known for their loyalty to traditional methods of pressing olives for oil. Evenings are spent within the frescoed walls of the villa in hands-on cooking classes with Giuliano. Guests learn how to use fresh local ingredients to create sumptuous delights to be enjoyed each evening for dinner. The kitchen can accommodate 12 students, and the remaining spouses and friends happily await the Italian food creations either in the outdoor gardens or in one of the well-appointed drawing rooms.
Grateful guests usually comment that it was the best trip they have ever taken, or that it has changed how they think about cooking and food. Those who take this trip of a lifetime learn firsthand what Italian food is all about by going to fresh food markets, and transforming ingredients into sensational dishes with the help of Giuliano.
The Wine And Pairings
Marilisa Allegrini, the owner of Villa della Torre, plays a vital role in educating guests about wine. Throughout the week, she is on hand to present detailed information about local and faraway wines of Italy. By the end of the course, guests have learned all about the main wine regions of Italy. As for the proper pairing of food and wine, there really aren’t any rules, explains Hazan.
“Sometimes the best wine to go with a certain dish is the wine you most feel like drinking at the time...Instead of getting hung up on what you think you should be pairing, follow your instincts and your appetite,” he says.
If you are in the mood for a light wine, chances are you are not going to want to have a heavy meal like a cassoulet. There are however, certain combinations of wine and food that do complement each other. Here are Giuliano’s special recommendations for you:
- With sushi, try Allegrini Valpolicella, which is always drunk young.
- A dry Gewurztraminer is a pleasant accompaniment to Chinese food.
- Prosecco makes a lively coupling with hors d’oeuvres.
- A red dessert wine that never disappoints isAllegrini’s Recioto della Valpolicella Classico. Made with dried grapes, this goes particularly well with chocolate.
Follow along with Chef Hazan here and create an Hazan delight…
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Giuliano Hazan has so much to teach about Italian food and cooking that it is too much to print here. But there is one underlying reason for all he does. He believes, “Cooking is an act of love and nourishment, both physically and emotionally. When you cook, you are putting yourself into it, as well as time, care and love. Preparing food and then sitting down and eating together is an act of sharing and giving to others. Cooking at home and sharing meals with friends and family is what it is all about. It is the most valuable thing on earth.”
To get your own collection of family recipes from Giuliano Hazan, get his latest book, “Hazan Family Favorites.” The cookbook, full of appetizing recipes and family photos, is derived from a 58 year-old handwritten journal of recipes that Marcella Hazan passed on to her devoted and talented son. The journal is written completely in Italian, the only language in which Marcella ever wrote.
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe Goethe published an account of his travels in Italy between 1786 and 1788 called “Italian Journey”. In it he writes of the pasta he encountered in Naples: “As a rule, it is simply cooked in water and seasoned with grated cheese”. This is, in fact, the prevalent way that pasta used to be served in southern Italy. Today the dish has become a Roman specialty. Some people swear that it must be made with the sharper aged Pecorino Romano, while others insist a younger pecorino is called for. I personally like using a medium aged pecorino, which melts more easily and is better suited to the generous amount of black pepper used here.
And finally, try this classic Roman recipe, Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, is easy enough to make any night of the week and will satisfy any craving for fine Italian food.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound pecorino cheese (use a medium aged cheese such as Crosta Rossa di Pienza)
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
- Put the olive oil, 1 ? teaspoons salt, and pepper in a small saucepan and place over very low heat.
- Grate the cheese using the medium-sized holes of a grater and put it in the bowl you’ll be serving the pasta in.
- When the water for the pasta is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons salt, add the spaghetti, and stir until all the strands are submerged.
- Cook until al dente. A few minutes before the pasta is done, add 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the bowl with the cheese.
- Stir vigorously until a creamy paste is formed. When the pasta is ready, drain well and transfer to the serving bowl.
- Toss very well until the pasta is coated with the cheese.
- Add the hot olive oil with the salt and pepper, toss again, and serve at once.
- Tip As soon as the pasta is in the serving bowl, toss it vigorously with the cheese to prevent it forming a lump at the bottom of the bowl.