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Giuliano Hazan shares his passion for pasta

By LAURA Reiley

Times Food Critic

SARASOTA

The first thing you notice is the kitchen. No, that's not right. The very first thing is the irrationally exuberant chocolate brown poodle named Truffle. The Dog Whisperer would have a lot to say about Giuliano Hazan's canine companion, but once introductions are made, Truffle calms and then it's back to ogling the kitchen.

It's perfect, absolutely the center of the house, with six gas burners, about a million directional ceiling lights that look like stars above and a special drawer for homemade pasta. Today the drawer has nothing in it beyond a little flour dusting. No matter, the cookbook author and 2007 International Association of Culinary Professionals cooking teacher of the year is showing us the ropes with commercially available dried pasta.

But even this he's a stickler about.

"It's important to use a premium brand. Cheaper pastas are extruded through Teflon dies, which makes the pasta so slick sauces won't stick to it. Premium pastas use rough bronze dies. Feel this."

We feel this. Rough like my legs midwinter.

"Also, pasta needs to be dried at room temperature. Cheaper pastas try to speed the process by drying at higher temperatures," Hazan says. We are paying less attention now as the smell of onions and thyme sauteing in olive oil (his own label, a collaboration with Marilisa Allegrini, whose Villa Giona in Northern Italy is the site of his cooking school) wafts.

Sadly, we are not cooking with Hazan in Northern Italy. Still, we feel lucky to be at the home in Sarasota he shares with his wife, Lael, and their two daughters, Gabriella, 10, and Michela, 6.

As any Italophile knows, Giuliano Hazan is the son of Marcella Hazan, the nonna of Italian cooking in this country, the woman responsible for bringing balsamic vinegar to the United States and probably for making olive oil a kitchen staple. Still, it was son Giuliano who was responsible for bringing his parents to Florida.

"I was living in Portland, Ore., where I had been recruited to be the opening chef at a restaurant called Perlina. I was missing the sunshine and was flying back and forth to the East Coast. Someone on a plane told me about Sarasota."

Life's like that.

Long before she became one of Longboat Key's most celebrated residents, the senior Hazan opened a cooking school in Bologna when Giuliano was 17. Despite the fact that he says he was a hands-off observer in his mother's kitchen as a kid, Giuliano ended up overseeing his mother's school before it closed in 1987. (His own kids are full-throttle hands-on: Giuliano pauses to brag a little about young Gabriella's pastamaking prowess on the Today Show recently.)

"In the back of my mind I always wanted to do another school in Italy."

In 2000, he got his opportunity, leading small groups through weeklong immersions in Italian food, wine and life, his school built in a Renaissance villa near the city of Verona. He conducts four classes a year, in between which he has found time to write his fourth cookbook, Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $27.50), published in September.

"Cuisine is like a language, with an idiom and a syntax," Giuliano says as he adds chopped crookneck squash to the sauteed onions. His lifelong aim, then, to explicate that syntax to American cooks.

"I cook mostly for an American audience," he says, so some adaptations are essential (Italians might be flummoxed by the prominence of salmon in his recipes). For this book, the guiding principle was time.

"I wanted it to be recipes that could be made in the time it takes the pasta to boil."

Indeed, the book's 100 recipes are no nonsense, bright with herbs and fresh tomatoes (he loves canned San Marzano tomatoes but says they need a slow simmer to reach their potential), with ingredients Americans can relate to: zucchini and roasted peppers, shiitake mushrooms, peas and asparagus. These are the kinds of recipes we need for a quick emergency weeknight dinner — or, alternatively, an easy holiday gathering that provides a little respite from roast beef or turkey.

"Notice, all these recipes use a skillet or saute pan, not a saucepan. You want a lot of surface area for quick evaporation," Giuliano says as he drains the pasta and tosses it with the fragrant sauce.

We sit to eat at a table set with an embroidered tablecloth and Italian hand-painted pottery. Lael, lucky duck, enjoys lunch her husband has cooked every day.

"He needs pasta at least once a week," she says as she twirls noodles on her fork.

Fine, but who is the pasta master, Giuliano or his mother? He demurs, but he does admit this:

"My father says he can tell the difference between my butter, onion and tomato sauce and my mother's. It's a Hazan classic."

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/ dining.

Giuliano Hazan's pasta perfect tips

• Salt the water with sea salt, which brings out the flavor in something without seeming salty.

• Don't rinse pasta. It becomes slippery and doesn't hold a sauce. And always toss the pasta with the sauce, don't just ladle sauce on top.

• It's important to remember that a pasta sauce is meant to season a pasta; it shouldn't overwhelm.

• Egg pasta is more delicate, porous and absorbent, better used for cream- and butter-based sauces; extruded pasta is more compressed and suited to olive oil sauces.

• It's better to use dried egg pasta than the egg pasta in the grocery refrigerator aisle, which probably has preservatives in it. Look for the dried pasta packaged in little nests.

• Use good olive oil whether you're dressing a salad or making a sauce. You want that good flavor.

A conversation with Marcella Hazan

Art Levy of Florida Trend, a Times Publishing Co. magazine, recently spoke with cookbook author and teacher Marcella Hazan, 85, about her thoughts on good food and cooking. Hazan, author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, lives in Longboat Key with her husband, Victor. Here are excerpts from that interview:

I miss the fish of Italy. It has more taste than the fish of Florida. I have to cook the fish here a different way to make it taste Italian. Good fish, you just steam it a little with some very nice olive oil and lemon because the fish already has so much taste. The Florida fish I like most is pompano. The red snapper, not much taste.

If I have vegetables in the refrigerator, I feel as if I have food. I can cook them many different ways. I can make a sauce for pasta. I can do a soup.

When I test a recipe, I never think about measuring. I do it. I serve it. We eat. If it's good, I try to do it again, and I try to measure. I do it in reverse.

I don't eat Twinkies. All these things that are wrapped, I don't like. One of the things that we teach to children in Italy is to never eat between meals, not to snack, because you ruin your appetite for the meal.

You use a very good extra virgin olive oil, and you have a very good dish. Use an olive oil that is not very good, and you ruin the dish.

Don't try to put too many ingredients together. We

have a way of saying in Italy that what you keep out has the same importance of what you put in.

I'm happy that my son, Giuliano, has followed in my steps. It's like I'm not finished, you know what I mean? It's like something of me continues, and that is nice. It's a continuation of preaching the Italian way.

>>EASY

Linguine With Crab and Arugula

1 medium clove garlic

1 ¼ pounds fresh tomatoes

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Salt

2 ounces arugula

1 pound linguine

8 ounces cooked lump crab meat

Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut into ¼-inch dice. Put the olive oil, garlic and hot red pepper flakes in a 12-inch skillet and place over medium-high heat. Once the garlic is sizzling, add the tomatoes, season with salt and raise the heat to high. Cook quickly, for 2 to 3 minutes, just until the tomatoes begin to break down but not to the point of becoming a sauce. Stir often to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. While the tomatoes are cooking, wash the arugula, remove any thick stems, then coarsely chop it. When the water for the pasta is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons salt, add the linguine and stir until the strands are submerged. Cook until al dente. When the tomatoes are ready, add the chopped arugula and season with salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook until the arugula has completely wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the crab and continue cooking, stirring well, until it has heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and serve at once.

Serves 4.

Source: Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta

>>EASY

Tagliatelle with a Quick and Simple Meat Sauce

½ medium yellow onion

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound fresh tomatoes

¾ pound ground beef chuck

Salt

10 ounces dried egg tagliatelle or pappardelle (or 1 pound rigatoni or shells)

cup freshly grated Parmesan

Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Peel the onion and finely chop it. Put the olive oil and butter in a 12-inch skillet, add the chopped onion and place over medium-high heat. Saute until the onion turns a rich golden color, about 5 minutes. While the onion is sauteing, peel the tomatoes and coarsely chop them. When the onion is ready, add the ground beef, season with salt and cook, stirring, until it has lost its raw color and just begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, season them with salt and cook over medium heat until the liquid the tomatoes release has almost completely evaporated, 10 to 12 minutes. Add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water, add the tagliatelle and stir until all the strands are submerged. Cook until al dente. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and the grated Parmesan and serve at once.

Serves 4.

Source: Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta

>>EASY

Fusilli With Yellow Squash and Grape Tomatoes

1 large sweet yellow onion

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 ¼ pounds yellow crookneck squash

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes (about 1 cup)

1 pound fusilli

Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Peel the onion, cut in half and thinly slice lengthwise. Put the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet, add the sliced onion and place over medium-high heat. Saute until the onion begins to lightly brown, 6 to 8 minutes. While the onion is sauteing, chop enough thyme to measure 1 teaspoon and add it to the onions. Wash the yellow squash and cut off the ends. If it is the crookneck variety, cut the neck into ¼-inch half rounds and the wider part into ¼-inch quarter rounds. If it is the kind that has the same shape as a zucchini, cut all of it into ¼-inch quarter rounds. When the onion is ready, add the yellow squash and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking over medium-high heat until the squash begins to brown and is mostly tender, about 10 minutes. While the squash is cooking, rinse the grape tomatoes and cut them in half lengthwise. When the squash is ready, add the tomatoes and continue cooking until they begin to break down, 6 to 8 minutes. As soon as the tomatoes are in the pan, and the water for the pasta is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water, add the fusilli and stir well. Cook until al dente. When the pasta is done, toss it with the sauce and serve at once.

Serves 4.

Source: Giuliano Hazan's Thirty Minute Pasta

Giuliano Hazan shares his passion for pasta 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:30am]
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