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Old Salt

November 12, 2018

Today is Veterans Day. Again. As alway, today I offer up a big, heartfelt thank you to all of those who have volunteered for military service. Truly. I mean it. It’s because of the sacrifices veterans have made, that I’m able to do what I do in peace and security.

So what do I do? Well, today I’m writing about a veteran cookbook writer, again, who is no longer with us. Her name is Marcella Hazan. And if you haven’t read my previous posts about her, a good place to start is the post Italian Goddess of Fussy.

Why today? Well, just yesterday I made a fortuitous discovery. But before I can tell you about that, I need to make a quick confession.

When I was in my twenties and living with Raf and ADS, I had access to all of Raf’s cookbooks. It was through his collection that I learned about Marcella Hazan in the first place. Even today, my own cookbook library isn’t nearly as impressive or thorough as Raf’s was decades ago.

While I do own a well loved copy of Marcella’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, it has been the only one of her books on my shelf. That is my confession.

The only time when that has actually posed a problem is when I went to look for Marcella’s guidance about salt in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and couldn’t find it anywhere in the book. You know. Because it wasn’t in that book. It was published in Marcella’s Italian Kitchen.

Yesterday, fate stepped in.

The Guilderland Public Library opens at 1pm on Sundays. I know this, but the kids finished their Stewart’s milkshakes faster than expected and we got to the library a few minutes early. In the lobby are two things. Racks of used books for sale, and a checkers table.

The kids got tied up in a game of checkers, so I took more time than usual to peruse the racks of books. And there on a shelf somewhere in between the Campbell’s Soup Cookbook and the Altamont Elementary School Cookbook was a pristine copy of Marcella’s Italian Kitchen.

I opened it up, and there was her diatribe on salt that I had been longing to re-read for years!

It’s even better than I remember. The first chapter of this book is called Good Italian Cooking, and it has a series of “Elementary Rules” the first of which is “Use no Parmesan that is not Parmigiano-Reggiano.” But it also includes other gems like “When ripe, fresh tomatoes are in season, do not use the canned” and “Find a butcher who will cut scaloppine across the grain from the top round.”

Have I mentioned how much I love this woman?

There are detailed thoughts laid out on some of the staple ingredients like Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and even parsley. There is more guidance on cooking, such as “Cooking With Cream” and “Cooking With Wine Or Broth And Water”.

Most of the blurbs are a few paragraphs. But then there is a page and a half dedicated to “On Using Salt”. When I brought the book to the librarian at the circulation desk, I told her this essay on salt alone was worth more than the dollar price the library was asking for this treasure.

Here is just a taste of what Marcella wrote on the matter:

Salt is a magnet. When used judiciously, it draws fragrance from food. Bear in mind that virtually all sensations of taste are odors that, through the mouth, reach our olfactory of smelling nerve… Salt also draws out and deepens color. It is useful to recall this when cooking green vegetables: The emerald in spinach, green beans, and Swiss chard emerges with a glow if they are cooked with salt… Liquid also follows salt’s compelling pull… If one is making a meat broth and wishes to flavor the broth rather than the meat, salt helps by forcing out the juices of the meat. Omit the salt during cooking, and the broth will be blander, but the meat juicier.

Yes. Marcella makes the argument that you can smell well salted dishes. And she backs it up with a test you can do at home to wine. I haven’t done it yet. But I’m looking forward to giving it a shot.

She closes her argument on the benefits of salt with an excerpt from the New York Times, written by Robert Farrar Capon who was an Episcopal priest and food writer. The article was published on September 8, 1982. My favorite part of Father Capon’s piece was the following paragraph:

…To cook without salt (save for sound and personal medical reasons), or to undersalt deliberately in the name of dietary chic, is to omit from the music of cookery the indispensable bass line over which all other tastes and smells form their harmonies…

And I never would have found this without Marcella. And I never would have found her without Raf. This is the month of thanks, and I’m thankful for so many people and things. Veteran’s Day is well placed in the month of November. And thanks to all of you for continuing to read and share as I try to make this world a little more delicious.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 13, 2018 7:18 pm

    The only thing I would be mindful of is too much salt intake, a daily dose is technically a quarter of a teaspoon & having too much regularly is dangerous

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