01 October 2011

Review: Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon Johns

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Just because the economy is uncertain doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor and nutrition. If you don't believe me, take a look at Pamela Sheldon Johns's newest cookbook, Cucina Povera. The literal translation from the Italian is "cooking of the poor," what we would more commonly call peasant food. According to Johns, this type of cooking
is based on the philosophy of not wasting anything edible and using a variety of simple techniques to make every bite as tasty as possible. It's a cuisine of ingenious creativity in using next to nothing while maintaining a reverence for everything. (p. 4)
In this beautifully designed and well-written cookbook, Johns introduces us to her adopted Tuscany, from the hills to the sea and from the city to the country. We also meet some of her friends, who share their memories of childhood foods. For millennia and well into the late twentieth century, Tuscan cooks relied on simple, seasonal foods and made sure nothing was thrown out.

Cucina Povera brings everyday Tuscan food to the American kitchen. The recipes are grouped by course (appetizers to desserts) and are as simple as how to put together a cured meat and olive platter to a classic Tuscan vegetable soup that can be stretched to last four dinners by clever transformations. Most of the ingredients will be easy to find, but some may require easy substitutions (such as using chard or kale for "wild greens"). Vegetarians will find a number of suitable dishes, but should be aware that many recipes include meat, fish, game, and fowl.

The photographs are absolutely stunning, and you'll soon be dreaming of visiting the Tuscan countryside. The spread I've shared here is of a simple but delicious roasted chicken with herbs and wine (cropped to fit my scanner; click to enlarge). Other recipes I plan on trying are
  • Scarpaccia (zucchini cake), "which falls between a sweet and a savory dish"
  • Tagliatelle al Rag├╣ di Domenica (tagliatelle with Sunday meat sauce)
  • Carbaccia (onion soup), which "many believe . . . to be the forerunner of French onion soup"
  • Crostate di Prugne (plum jam tart)
Johns's experience as a cooking instructor is evident in the clear and simple directions to all of the recipes. Although Cucina Povera is not a how-to cookbook, there is nothing intimidating or out the reach of the average American cook. This collection is all about the type of food you'd serve at the kitchen table, perfect for sharing with family and close friends. The index is well conceived, making it easy to find what you're looking for.

Two caveats: Despite the number of wonderful photographs, some dishes are not shown completed and on the plate. Five or so recipes call for ingredients that could be difficult to find or would not necessarily be appealing to everyone, but that shouldn't stop you from missing out on all the other wonderful dishes.

Here is the recipe for the cover dish, a great way to use up late-season tomatoes. The recipe introduction explains what cipolline onions are and suggests either 4 quartered sweet red onions or 4 heads of garlic with the tops removed as a substitution.

Pomodori, Fagioli, e Cipolline (roasted tomatoes, beans, and onions)
serves 8 to 10 as a side dish
  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds cipolline onions, about 1½ inches in diameter, trimmed and peeled
  • 1 bulb fennel, cored and cut lengthwise into eighths
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked cannelloni beans
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the potatoes, onions, and fennel in a roasting pan. Add the olive oil and toss well. Season to taste. Roast, turning occasionally for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and roast another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and onions are fork-tender and golden brown. Add the beans, garnish with thyme, and serve at once.

Beth Fish's notes: I served this as a main dish with a salad and crusty homemade bread. I added whole peeled garlic to the pan with the onions. I heated the beans gently on the stovetop before adding to the roasted vegetables.

Cucina Povera at Powell's
Cucina Povera at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Andrews McMeel, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781449402389
Source: review (see review policy).
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Marg 10/1/11, 6:08 AM  

I posted this week about how I find foodie memoirs and cookbooks to be aspirational reading! This book sounds like exactly the kind of book I was talking about!

TheBookGirl 10/1/11, 6:42 AM  

This sounds like a lovely cookbook, but I'm not sure it's for me for two reasons: I'm a vegetarian, and I need visuals for recipes that I try for the first time.
That said, I would like to read her recollections with her friends of their childhood experiences with food and her exploration of the countryside of Tuscany. This is one I would get from the library.

Uniflame 10/1/11, 7:24 AM  

This recipe sounds really tasty and simple to make. I do love books that are about cooking on a budget.

Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook 10/1/11, 7:56 AM  

This sounds like a really nice cookbook, I love the idea of not wasting. The roasted tomato and bean dish looks so good, I love everything that's in there!

bermudaonion 10/1/11, 9:01 AM  

I have that book and it is gorgeous. Looking through it made me want to visit Tuscany!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 10/1/11, 9:02 AM  

"Cooking for the Poor" sounds so much nicer in Italian!

People *can* get flavorful and nutritious food on a budget -- which is why all the highly processed food on WIC and school lunch programs make me frustrated. Oops, I'm about to jump on a soapbox -- thanks for sharing this yummy looking cookbook with us!

girlichef 10/1/11, 9:24 AM  

Oh! I have this cookbook on my review shelf right now...and yes, I think it's gorgeous. Lovely recipe (one of the ones I have marked). You've made me intent on cooking from it this weekend =)

Margot 10/1/11, 10:00 AM  

I cannot wait to try this recipe. I can't recall ever putting these particular ingredients together in one dish - certainly not potatoes and tomatoes. But - it sounds delicious.

Beth 10/1/11, 10:17 AM  

delicious simple italian. sounds perfect.

Zibilee 10/1/11, 10:24 AM  

It sounds as if the recipes in this book are rather unique, and I liked that you mentioned that the book teaches you things about stretching meals out creatively. I have never had a dish that features beans and tomatoes before, but the recipe that you featured sounds really wonderful, especially considering that my daughter and I are growing tomatoes out back! This was a wonderful feature and review of a book I need to check out!

Nan 10/1/11, 12:17 PM  

I would leave out the fennel, but other than that I think this is a dish I'd like. Thanks for offering one of the vegetarian selections!

Vasilly 10/1/11, 12:54 PM  

This sounds like a really good cookbook. I'm always on the lookout for simple recipes of inexpensive meals.

Peaceful Reader 10/1/11, 1:12 PM  

I wish I'd picked up some fennel from the market this morning-if I had I'd be able to make this today!

The cookbook sounds easy to use.

Becky 10/1/11, 3:15 PM  

Why do I always forget to link up here?!? I remember this week though and it looks like my pesto would compliment your recipe, maybe with a nice side dish? :) I'll have to try your recipe as well!

Rose City Reader 10/1/11, 3:27 PM  

That recipe sounds great! Now that fall is here, I have been in the mood to cook up some version of tomatoes and beans. I'm saving this one to try ASAP.

Beth S. 10/1/11, 3:44 PM  

You always have such awesome cookbooks to review. I'm always going to my library website right after reading your Weekend Cooking posts to see if they have these cookbooks for check out.

Food Jaunts 10/1/11, 4:17 PM  

Hmm, I'll definitely have to check this book out, I've been trying to reduce our food costs. Another recommendation from me is frugavore - she has an interesting take on frugal recipes

Karen White 10/1/11, 5:09 PM  

I love the looks of this cookbook. Thought I'd share my basic Vegetable Soup recipe with optional Beans and Bacon. I tried to write the recipe so that you can make it with leftovers and/or what's on hand. Let me know what you think!

Julie P. 10/1/11, 7:17 PM  

I'm going to check this one out!

Linda 10/1/11, 9:43 PM  

Sounds delicious!

Anglers Rest 10/2/11, 7:22 AM  

I have just posted contribution to this weekend cooking. I am now to do a few domestics and will then sit with a cuppa and have a read of everyone's posts. We are having some beautiful warm weather here in the UK - almost unheard of for October so I am making the most of it!

Lisa@ButteryBooks 10/2/11, 9:15 PM  

If the rest of the photographs look as good as the cover, I may have to get this cookbook. I get such joy from just looking at pictures of food.

Jane of Australia 10/3/11, 5:29 AM  

I am always late getting here, but most of the time I do arrive.
This week I am eating the freezer...
well the contents

Jane of Australia

Serena 10/3/11, 9:03 AM  

this sounds de-lish...my vova's Portuguese cooking is the same...waste nothing

evidenta contabila 10/4/11, 2:23 AM  

Hmmm this recipe looks so delicious and nice and i think that fits perfect with my taste and in my opinion is a very easy recipe, so i think i will try it. Thanks for sharing.

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