PW: When you wrote Marcella Cucina in 1997 you said "absolutely and positively" it would be your last cookbook. So is Marcella Says... really your last book?
Well, you know, I'm 80. To write a book, I need at least five years. Every time I finish a book I think, "I'll never do it again. It's too much." For the book, I test recipes many, many times. But at one point I realized there were many things in my cooking lessons that I never wrote about. I thought it would be a nice thing to do, to collect the things I've said during my lessons. For me, it's an important book. I tried to really give the feeling of Italian cooking, and how to make dishes taste Italian.
Will you ever stop cooking?
Well, we eat everyday, so I have to cook!
What distinguishes Italian cooking?
Italian recipes are very, very simple, with not so many ingredients, you know? Very easy to do. But, easy after a certain point, because you have to choose the things that are freshest, the vegetables, you can't do it just like that. You use only maybe two ingredients, but those two ingredients have to be good. And simple, not many, many complicated things. That is not the way Italians cook. They have complicated dishes, but they only cook them once in a while; it's not everyday cooking. I would like people to cook more. Cooking is about the family. That's one of the few moments you can sit together. It's not only the food, but what the food brings. You know, you talk. What a nice thing, to talk when you are happy because you have eaten something good! A lot of people don't have that. That's also why I tried to write a book that could be easy.
Are there any cookbooks that you, as a home cook, return to for ideas or inspiration?
I have a lot of cookbooks. But no, to look for ideas, no. I always go back to Italy every year, and I'm always experimenting, and something that I had in the house or in a restaurant gives me ideas.
Are there other cuisines from around the world you admire?
I love Chinese food, and I love Japanese food. Chinese food is very near to Italian food, you know. The Chinese, they have noodles, they have pasta. Chinese don't have sauce to cover up, like the French. In Chinese and Italian cooking, you have to take time for preparation, but the cooking is very fast. They're very, very near.
What do you think of Italian-American cuisine?
Italian food is simple; it doesn't have much presentation. It doesn't have too many different things in a dish. And all the American restaurants, not only Italian ones, they have these infusions. Some of them are not very Italian anymore—they've come a little far away from Italy. They have to present these dishes, so they do something maybe that doesn't belong to the dish. I would like them to do a restaurant like the real Italian home cooking, without anything visual, and not adding a little more. In Italy we have a saying: "It has the same importance what you keep out than what you put in." Italian-American restaurants put a lot together.
Would you ever open a restaurant?
No. I think it's one of the most difficult things to do. I admire the person who does it because you have to deal with too many things, especially with the client.
What do you think of Mario Batali, Rocco DiSpirito and all the chefs who are on television in the U.S.?
Well, they're full of life! Sometimes I have a little difficulty following them. They jump without any warning. Lidia Bastianich, I saw her a few times. She was making a Roman appetizer, the fried bread with mozzarella and anchovies. But she put the anchovy on top, and we usually put it between.
Speaking of food, what are you going to eat for lunch today?
[Hazan lowers her voice conspiratorially] Maybe some sushi.