Just when you think there couldn’t be anything left that you didn’t already know about Italian cooking, a book like Cucina Povera comes out. If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance you are a fan of Italian cooking. And like me, I’m sure that you have all of Marcella’s books on your shelf, as well as classics like those by Evan Kleiman, Nancy Jenkins, Michele Scicolone, Carol Field and Ada Boni. You’d think that about does it.
So I was as surprised (and happy) as anyone to open up Pamela Sheldon Johns’ Cucina Povera and find so many recipes that I’d never heard of, much less eaten or cooked. Peas and Eggs? Chestnut Crepes? Who knew?
Cucina Povera translates into Poor Cooking. And this is just what it is: cooking from the peasant side of things. The kind of cooking that has been going on forever in central Italy, in farmhouses, where families make do with what is available.
As it turns out, what is available is pretty great. Home grown vegetables, olive oil, grains and legumes make for pretty tasty - if ‘poor’ - cooking. Not a lot of meat, which sounds just right to me.
I received Pamela’s gorgeous book (with mouth-watering photos by Andrea Wyner) about four weeks ago. And I had every intention of writing about it since the day it arrived. But I didn’t want to just write about it. I also wanted to cook about it. But life in the past few weeks has been full of travel and other commitments which meant I never got it together to shop for, and then cook, a recipe from the book. So every evening, as I went to prepare dinner, I set aside Cucina Povera and just made do with what we had in the house.
But then I remembered: Cucina Povera is all about making do, right? So the other night I decided that I’d cook from the book, no matter what, making do with what I found
Luckily the night before I’d set some beans to soak and had cooked them up that morning. Seemed like a good enough starting point. A starting point which lead me straight to Pomodori, Fagioli, Cipolline : Roasted Tomatoes, Beans and Onions. I had all the ingredients on hand, even a bulb of fennel from last weeks farmer’s market.
This recipe is typical of the rest in the book, in that it takes the simplest of ingredients, and turns them into a nourishing, delicious meal.
I didn’t have any cipolline onions on hand, but I did have some beautiful home-grown big onions from our friend Paolo. I also had some of his potatoes as well. While Pamela suggests using cherry tomatoes, I used bigger ones and just chopped them into quarters. And the beans? Cannellini would have been perfect, I’m sure, but mine came from the bag of ‘haricot beans’ I’d picked up at Waitrose during my last trip to London.
In other words, I made do. As you can with this recipe. I’d say you can roast just about any combo of vegetables, adding beans at the end to turn it into a meal. And it makes perfect leftovers, which I ate the following night topped with a poached egg from my
If you'd like to cook like a peasant, just leave a comment below. I'll be throwing all the names in a hat in two weeks, and winner will receive a beautiful copy of Cucina Povera. But don't worry. If you don't win, you can always buy your own copy, here.
Pomodori, Fagioli, e Cippoline
(adapted, almost verbatim with just a few changes, from Cucina Povera)
2 pounds/ 1 kilo potatoes, peeled and cut up into chunks
2 pounds/ 1 kilo onions, cut into thick wedges
1 big bulb fennel, cored and cut into thick wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil (Pamela calls for 1/4 cup. I’m on a diet this week)
salt and pepper
2 cups tomatoes, quartered
3 cups cooked white beans
8 sprigs fresh thyme
Preheat oven to 400F/200C
Place potatoes, onions and fennel in a roasting pan. Add oil, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper, and 6 of the thyme sprigs.
Roast, stirring once or twice, for about 20 minutes
Add tomatoes, toss, and roast for another 15 or 20 minutes until everything is tender and browned.
Add beans, toss well, and serve.*
*I added a poached egg atop mine, which was delish.