Marcella Hazan

Marcella Hazan in her Florida kitchen in 2012. She was revered in the food world and beloved by home cooks who found her recipes to be both doable and delicious. (Chris O'Meara, Associated Press / May 29, 2012)

Using a cookbook by Ada Boni, who then set the standard for Italian cuisine, Hazan honed her skills in a small kitchen.

When her son was a child, she enrolled in a cooking class given by Grace Chu, who introduced many Americans to fine Chinese cooking.

Soon Hazan's classmates were urging her to teach them Italian cooking. She charged $80 for beginner classes in her apartment — a fraction of what her later courses would cost.

Word got around, reaching the New York Times' Claiborne in the fall of 1970. When he called, Hazan did not know who he was but invited him to share lunch with her and Victor.

She prepared tortelloni di biete (tortelloni with Swiss chard filling), spaghetti all'ortolana (spaghetti with eggplant) and artichokes Roman-style. Claiborne included the recipes in the story headlined, "There Was a Time She Couldn't Cook."

"When the article appeared, she was dumbfounded," Claiborne told Los Angeles Times food writer Russ Parsons 20 years later. "She became well-known to the general public of New York almost instantly."

Eager home cooks flocked to her doorstep in New York and later to schools in Bologna and Venice.

As her career took off, her husband, who had been working in his family's furrier business, partnered with her to produce some of the most successful cookbooks of their time.

Marcella would cook and recook her recipes, carefully gauging her husband's reaction. Victor, an authority on Italian wine who wrote well-regarded books of his own, would translate her recipes from Italian and write for the cookbook. No one who knew the Hazans thought of one without thinking of the other.

"In a way, all the cookbooks have been outgrowths of the eager, affectionate conversations about the day's meals that the two of them had in their first New York apartment," food writer Anne Mendelson wrote in reviewing "Marcella Cucina" for the L.A. Times.

With Hazan's first efforts at codifying recipes, she struggled to identify appropriate substitutions for the finer ingredients used in Italy. But by the time "Marcella Cucina" was published, home cooks were demanding and getting the extra virgin olive oil, radicchio and other products that had not previously been available.

Eventually, Marcella's success led the Hazans back to Italy. For years, she taught in the kitchen of a converted 16th-century palazzo in the Cannaregio section of Venice where the couple lived, shopping at the city's open-air Rialto market.

In recent years, Hazan lived with her husband in Florida, near their son, Giuliano, a chef and also a cookbook author. Both survive her, as do two grandchildren.

Luther is a former Times staff writer.