Victor Hazan reminiscences on how his wife Marcella changed Italian home cooking

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Together for over 60 years, Victor Hasan was the beneficiary of his legendary wife Marcella’s cooking. Photo courtesy of Victor Hazan.

In the early 1970s, supermarkets didn’t stock Italian parsley or fresh basil. Marcella Hazan opened up the world to Americans with her collection of recipes, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.” With the thirtieth anniversary of the cookbook’s publication, her husband and collaborator, noted wine writer Victor Hazan reflects on her legacy.

Meeting in her hometown of Cesenatico, Victor recalls being bowled over by his future wife. They were together for the next sixty years, eventually moving to the United States. “She was crazy about biology and plants,” he remembers. “She knew every leaf under the sun. Marcella had an empathy with ingredients. She could take something and she knew what to do with it. Fortunately, she wasn’t brought up in plants, she was brought up in Italy!”

Clam Sauce with Tomatoes 
Serves 4


  • 1 dozen small littleneck clams
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for the pasta
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice, or fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 flat anchovy fillet (preferably the kind prepared at home as described on page 9), chopped very fine
  • Salt
  • Chopped hot red chili pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound pasta: Recommended pasta: Spaghettini, thin spaghetti, takes to clam sauces more successfully than other shapes. A close enough second is spaghetti.


  1. Wash and scrub the clams as described on page 126. Discard those that stay open when handled. Put them in a pan broad enough so that the clams don’t need to be piled up more than 3 deep, cover the pan, and turn on the heat to high. Check the clams frequently, turning them over, and remove them from the pan as they open their shells.
  2. When all the clams have opened up, detach their meat from the shells, and gently swish each clam in its own juices in the pan to rinse off any sand. Unless they are exceptionally small, cut them up in 2 or even 3 pieces. Put them aside in a small bowl.
  3. Line a strainer with paper towels, and filter the clam juices in the pan through the paper into a bowl. Spoon some of the filtered juice over the clam meat to keep it moist.
  4. Put the olive oil and garlic in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium, and cook until the garlic has become colored a pale gold. Add the parsley, stir once or twice, then add the cut-up tomatoes, their juice, the chopped anchovy, and the filtered clam juices. Stir thoroughly for a minute or two, then adjust heat to cook at a gentle, but steady simmer for 25 minutes, or until the oil floats free from the tomatoes.

*Ahead-of-time note: The sauce may be prepared several hours in advance up to this point. Reheat gently when preparing to toss it with pasta.

  1. Taste and correct for salt, add the chopped chili pepper, stir 2 or 3 times, then remove the pan from heat. Add the cut-up clams, stirring them into the sauce to coat them well. Toss thoroughly with cooked drained spaghettini or spaghetti. Drizzle a few drops of raw olive oil over the pasta and serve at once.

From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: 30th Anniversary Edition by Marcella Hazan. Copyright © 1992 by Marcella Hazan. Foreword copyright © 2022 by Victor Hazan. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Before moving to the States, “Marcella had never seen a supermarket growing up in Italy,” says her husband Victor Hasan. Photo courtesy of Victor Hazan. 

“Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with a foreword by the author’s husband. Photo courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf.