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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 Ragù 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)
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
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.
Source: review (see review policy).
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