Cucina Povera

Tuscan Peasant Cooking

Cucina Povera presents simple, hearty fare that appeals not only to the eye, but smell and taste as well. The recipes are representative of the Tuscan region in that the flavors are Italian in general, and also unique to the region. The recipes are also representative of "making do" with whatever may be in the kitchen.

I tried four different recipes from the book.

First is Polenta di Mais Otto File (Corn Polenta). In some ways, this may be the most labor intensive of the recipes in that the polenta has to be constantly stirred for approximately 30 to 40 minutes and it does get thick. The end result (a variation on lasagna, with the polenta taking the place of noodles) is well worth the effort. While I really liked the pecorino cheese (sheep's milk cheese) that the recipe called for, it is a sharp, salty cheese that may not be to everyone's taste. Based on the flavor of the cheese, parmesan would be a good substitute.

Next is Pomodori, Fagioli, e Cipolline (Roasted Tomatoes, Beans, and Onions). For me, this is one of those recipes that could either be eaten as a main dish, a side dish, or as a salad. The flavors blend well together, with the cherry tomatoes giving both a sweet (when they themselves are eaten) and that extra savory kick to the onions, beans and potatoes.

Third is Scarpaccia (Zucchini Cake). The zucchini cake is both sweet and savory. While for my family and myself the cake tasted a touch too sweet, this could have been in part due to trying half the recipe and not winding up with exactly half of the measurements. Overall, the recipe does have the type of balance between the sweet and the savory elements that it could be served as either a side dish or a dessert.

Finally, there is/are Cantucci (Almond Biscotti). Hands down, the best biscotti I have ever tasted. According to the recipe, these will last up to 6 weeks in an airtight container. I can attest that this will not be an issue in my home.

What I like about the cookbook, aside from the recipes, is that it provides stories about the region and about some of the people who live there (some of who have recipes featured in the book), along with pictures from around different parts of Tuscany.

Book Blurb for Cucina Povera

Italian cookbook authority Pamela Sheldon Johns presents more than 60 peasant-inspired dishes from the heart of Tuscany inside Cucina Povera. This book is more than a collection of recipes of "good food for hard times." La cucina povera is a philosophy of not wasting anything edible and of using technique to make every bite as tasty as possible. Budget-conscious dishes utilizing local and seasonal fruits and vegetables create everything from savory pasta sauces, crusty breads and slow-roasted meats to flavorful vegetable accompaniments and end-of-meal sweets.

The recipes inside Cucina Povera have been collected during the more than 20 years Johns has spent in Tuscany. Dishes such as Ribollita (Bread Soup), Pollo Arrosto al Vin Santo (Chicken with Vin Santo Sauce), and Ciambellone (Tuscan Ring Cake) are adapted from the recipes of Johns' neighbors, friends, and local Italian food producers. Lavish color and black-and-white photographs mingle with Johns' recipes and personal reflections to share an authentic interpretation of rustic Italian cooking inside Cucina Povera.

Night Owl Reviews Oct, 2011 5.00