Marcella Hazan Can Taste the Difference and So Can I

Updated: Jun 10, 2019

Savor the flavor of a good quality olive oil. Use it wisely and use it well

I’m a big fan of Marcella Hazan. For me she is a kindred spirit, someone who gets what it means to cook Italian, someone who cooks with the same food memory as my Nonna. She would certainly be my Julia if I was writing about us.  In my book I refer to her as the “doyenne of Italian cooking”. Her cookbooks along with Batali and Bastianich stand like sentinels among all the other cook books on my shelves.

So when I came across Marcella’s comments written in response to an article by food scientist Harold McGee in the NY Times, about how many people can’t taste the difference between olive oils I took note. You see I believe that being Extra Virgin is better and there is a difference in the quality of olive oils based on the character of the land, cultivation, harvesting practices and methods of conservation and that you can taste the difference.

Traveling in Italy over 20years and 20,000 miles with my Italian family and friends, sourcing Italian regional food products, visiting generational producers and small family frantoio (olive mills), I’ve tasted a lot of olive oil. Olive oil in Italy, like wine, is a valued natural resource and a companion to food. Hazan who introduced olive oil as an ingredient to American home cooks in 1973, when she first published her classic Essentials of Italian Cooking, takes issue with Mr. McGee . . . and I quote

“What has escaped Mr. McGee’s attention is that what a good olive oil transfers to the food that is cooked in it – whether it be a single vegetable, or a sauce or a soup – is something that only a good olive oil can bestow: aroma and depth of flavor. It obviously can no longer be the oil that it was before cooking because in the process it has surrendered its qualities to the food for which it provided its sacrificial bath. If Mr. Mr. McGee wants to perform a comparison that has culinary value, it should be between something, spinach say, that is cooked in a good olive oil and samples of spinach cooked in different industrial seed oils”.

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