Essential book for the time-strapped cook. (And who isn't?)

At the summer camp Giuliano Hazan attended when he was 7, every camper was required to have a job. Some chose putting away canoes or setting up archery targets. Not little Giuliano. He pleaded with those in charge to let him into the kitchen. "I have selected my job," he told them. "You have to let me cook. I can't eat this food!" And cook he did - for the whole camp.

So tells cooking teacher Shirley O. Corriher in the introduction to Mr. Hazan's appealing new cookbook "Every Night Italian: 120 Simple, Delicious Recipes You Can Prepare in 45 Minutes or Less" (Scribner, 256 pp., $25).

Like many of the world's finest cooks, Hazan learned from his mom. He would perch on a stool and watch, taste, and smell as she chopped, shredded, and stirred. But his mother is no ordinary cook. Marcella Hazan is widely considered the leading authority on Italian cooking. And his father, Victor, is no slouch either.

All of this early exposure to superb cooking didn't go to Hazan's head. Like his mother, he is highly respected as both cooking teacher and cookbook author. These experiences have cultivated his ability to explain his craft in terms anyone can understand. He isn't above teaching the basics: how to chop an onion, bone a chicken, or sharpen a knife, all of which are included, along with helpful illustrations, in his latest book.

Hazan learns from his students as well. In fact, the concept for "Every Night Italian" came from them. "They told me they love to cook, but only have time for it when they host a dinner party," he says. "I wanted to offer people a book that would inspire them to cook great meals regularly, and to show them cooking doesn't have to be so time-consuming. The preparation for Italian dishes isn't complex, and you can make them with just a few quality ingredients."

From the Crostini With Tomatoes and arugula appetizer to the Sicilian Orange Tart, every one of the book's 120 recipes and all of its suggested menus specify length of time from start to finish. Feedback about this feature has been gratifying to Hazan. "People are amazed that those numbers are accurate!" he says.

When asked if he has a favorite recipe in the book, Hazan laughs. "Do you have a favorite child?" he quips. "It depends on my mood. I make the halibut with leeks and red peppers all the time. Also the pasta with eggplant. Oh, and my family loves the lamb braised with tomatoes and fresh herbs...."

About that favorite child, Hazan has just one, so there's no contest there. Gabriella is 2, and already taking an interest in Dad's cooking. "She loves to help," he says. "I lift her up, she grabs a spoon, and starts stirring."

Hazan doesn't recall getting into the act quite that early. Perhaps Gabriella won't wait until summer camp to cook for a crowd. Surely kindergarten snack time could use her talents in just a few years.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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