Though a subjective question, I think most would agree…Marcella Hazan.
Marcella Hazan is often referred to as the Julia Child of Italian cuisine. Just like Julia did for French cooking, Marcella introduced America and Great Britain to the traditional Italian ways of cooking. Their similarities don’t stop there. Both began cooking as adults after marriage had them living in countries that were not their own. Marcella was born in Italy, and it wasn’t until she moved to the U.S. in her thirties, that she began to cook, drawing from her memories the flavors she grew up with.
Without classic training, Hazan began her career teaching small groups of Americans the techniques of traditional Italian cooking in her New York apartment. Shortly thereafter, she opened her own school, The School of Classic Italian Cooking. While the school was a success, it is her cookbooks that made her famous. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is an absolute must have for anyone interested in Italian cooking. It is actually a compilation of Hazan’s first two books (The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking).
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is much more than a cookbook. It is a handbook to achieving classic Italian flavors from high quality, everyday ingredients. Hazan’s recipes and techniques are many times very basic, yet inventive. One of her most famous recipes from the book is a simple tomato sauce that contains just four ingredients: tomatoes, butter, two halves of a peeled onion, and salt. Simmer for about 45 minutes, toss out the onion, and you end up with a surprisingly rich and flavorful sauce. The book is considered by most to be one of the most important cookbooks of all time.
Sadly, Marcella Hazan passed away last September at the age of 89, but her legend surely lives on. Many of the great chefs of Italian cuisine have been largely inspired by Hazan; Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, to name just a couple.