Selecting the recipes for Cucina Povera
How to research a cookbook during the pandemic and the bibliography of Cucina Povera
This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. If you enjoy what I write and want access to exclusive weekly recipes, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. It took us two afternoons to write this newsletter. Thank you!
It took me a few months to get to the final index for Cucina Povera, and all through the following months, while I was testing the recipes cooking through the different chapters, I kept adding, swapping and removing dishes, to make it a coherent and cohesive collection of traditional recipes.
We wanted it to be a comprehensive book on the Italian Cucina Povera tradition so that leafing through it you could have a sense of the principles of this kind of cuisine and of the complex history and geography of our country. Of the way we have traditionally eaten in the past, of the way we eat at home now.
There had to be weeknight meal ideas, something you could quickly stir together with pantry ingredients, seasonal recipes, where the freshness of the produce could shine through simple preparations, and celebratory dishes, designed to feed small crowds and exalt the Italian joy of conviviality.
I wanted to include recipes with an unmistakable Mediterranean approach and recipes with a distinctive mountain feel, recipes that clearly stemmed from the country peasant tradition, and recipes born in the city streets.
As an author, I had the privilege to choose the editorial line of the book, what recipes to include and what to leave out. When it comes to Italian cuisine, though, there are gazillions of sources, more and less valid, and I had to necessarily make choices so as not to end up writing an encyclopaedia. In today’s newsletter, I’ll be sharing what guided me to select the more than 100 recipes that ended up in Cucina Povera.
Previous posts on Cucina Povera
Ahead of publication day, join us for a sneak peek into the 2-year journey behind the creation of "Cucina Povera." Our newsletter shares behind-the-scenes stories and provides an in-depth look at the writing and photography process.
How to get six additional, unique recipes that complement Cucina Povera
Meet the Food Photographer and Food Stylist behind Cucina Povera
Family traditions and recipes
I started jotting down recipes burrowing through my family's cooking repertoire and what was my daily experience with this resourceful way of cooking.
Inspired by what I’ve always seen doing at home, I keep a cotton bag behind my kitchen door where I collect all the odd pieces of stale bread, that are later repurposed as a precious ingredient: hence my love for stale bread, pappa al pomodoro, or panzanella. The same can be said for other recipes belonging to the peasant traditions of the Tuscan countryside, such as chicken cacciatora or pork liver skewers.
These recipes, often passed down from generation to generation, represent the food I grew up eating, the core of the book, and the starting point of my quest to explore the Italian Cucina Povera.
My desk is in the living room, just behind the sofa. It is just a small table with a chair, but it’s where most of Cucina Povera was born. It has a burgundy and gold desk lamp, a picture from our trip to Paris (we look beautiful in the sunset light on the Seine), and some space for my laptop and notebooks. If I stand up and turn to my left, I face my bookshelves, where all my food books and cookbooks are treasured. Over the past two years, this continuous movement from desk to bookshelf has been my main exercise.
Books about regional Italian cuisine, along with some worn-out classics, have been my main source of inspiration to research local traditions about Cucina Povera. Leafing through those pages common patterns and principles emerged.
I often say that Italian cuisine doesn’t exist and that it is just as hard to define regional cuisines, as in Italy potentially every town, mountain area, or stretch of coast has its own recipes and traditions. Researching Cucina Povera, though, I realised that there are recurring themes that turn the multifaceted, colourful, diverse body of recipes of Italian cuisine into a cohesive approach to cooking. Think about the respect of leftovers, the preference for seasonal and proximity ingredients, and a timeless sustainable approach, given by necessity, scarcity and rituality in the way food, especially meat, was consumed.
These reference books are often not fancy ones, without photos, and with recipes that are mostly a collection of vague directions. But you can read more about these books below.
If the situation would have been different - meaning no pandemic nor newly born Livia - we would have probably visited friends all over Italy to learn from them how to make their signature recipes or something so typical of their region that I had never had the chance to try. But we were stuck at home, so technology came to the rescue.
So here I’d love to acknowledge those friends who have always been available through phone calls, Whatsapp, and even Zoom classes to help me overcome a recipe standstill.
There was Vea Carpi, a cook and a mountain farmer, my reference for recipes from Trentino, but also a precious support in the quest to make the best passatelli. Enrica Monzani, a friend, brilliant cooking teacher in Genoa, and my go-to source for any Ligurian recipe. I owe her the crispest crust in my torta pasqualina. Manuela Conti, my bread guru and the reason why the cassoeula in the book might be one of the most comforting dishes you have ever eaten. Giulia Scappaticcio and Francesca Belfiglio, who helped me with the recipes from Abruzzo. Thanks to our Zoom class my pallotte cacio e ova dance in the hot oil, just like theirs. To Beppe Piovano, Franca Chiesa, and Francesca Miccoli from Azienda Agricola Agrimani, as I’ve learnt to make a mean bagna caoda following their advice. Giovanna and Giovanni Porcu from the dairy farm Podere Paugnano in Radicondoli, who taught me how to make culurgiones, and who make the best Tuscan pecorino in the world. Luciano, Nieri, and Stefania Capocasa, my favourite butchers and friends, who unveiled all their secrets, from which is the best cut to make stracotto to how to roast tender, juicy pork liver skewers. But also Fabrizia Arena, who helped me perfectly describe the joy of holding a steaming hot arancina in your hands. Rossella Di Bidino, who guided me with her love for her motherland to understand the rules of frico, and Rossella Venezia, who perused through her traditional cookbooks from Le Marche to help me trace back a recipe.
Unedited, amateur videos of people cooking and sharing their family recipes and culinary skills were a great source of inspiration, especially when it comes to regional variations of classic recipes, techniques, and fearless local rivalries.
I browsed through hundreds of videos of grandmothers filmed by their grandkids while making pasta, of cooking demos from anonymous food fairs in prosaic tensile structures where home cooks were concocting local specialities, or of more and less famous chefs demonstrating techniques and timeless classics.
I owe these videos a deeper connection and a better understanding of local recipes, traditions, quirkiness, dialects and home cooks.
Cucina Povera Bibliography
Unfortunately, we did not have enough pages to include the complete bibliography of Cucina Povera in the book. It sounds like the same old excuse, but the pandemic affected this as well. The cost of the paper increased significantly, which forced us to cut over 20 pages (originally there were two more chapters).
So, today I want to give credit to those books that inspired my research and helped me have a better understanding of local culinary traditions, and the regional principles of this resourceful approach to cooking.
I thought I would keep this list behind a paywall, but then I decided to share these books with everyone, as they could be a starting point to get deeper into your love for Italian cooking (and the Italian language, as most of these books have never been translated to English).
If you want, below you will find a pdf with the complete bibliography that you can print out and add inside Cucina Povera once you have it in your hands.
Should you have any questions on the following books or on the way we selected the recipes that eventually ended up in Cucina Povera, just let me know in the comments.
Angiolina Oliveti, Acquasale e Tielle, La Cucina Povera della Tradizione rurale calabrese, Laruffa Editore, 2010
Anna Lucia and Carlo Alberto Bauer, Il Bauer. Cultura, tradizioni, ricette della cucina trentina, Reverdito Edizioni, 2008 (a book I love dearly, as I bought it one the first times I went to Trentino with Tommaso, and the source of the first surprise dinner party recipes I cooked for him in 2013)
Stanislao Porzio, Cibi di Strada, Italia del Nord - Toscana, Umbria, Marche. Guido Tommasi Editore, 2008
Damiano Lucia, La cucina povera e contadina del lazio: appunti per un repertorio di ricette, 2019
Giovanni Righi Parenti, La Cucina Toscana. Newton & Compton Libri, 1995 (My favourite cookbook for Tuscan recipes of the Sienese and Grosseto areas)
AA.VV., Grammatica illustrata della cucina italiana. Storia e ricette di 250 piatti simbolo, Slow Food Editore, 2020 (one of the most recent books, a treasure trove of regional recipes with very good headnotes regarding recipe histories, ingredients and techniques)
Massimo Montanari, L’identità italiana in cucina. Editori Laterza, 2010 (available in English as The Italian Culinary Identity)
Massimo Montanari, Il formaggio con le pere. La storia in un proverbio, Editori Laterza, 2010 (this brilliant little book, available also in English as Cheese and Pears. History in a proverb, is able to explain the history of cheese and social class clash hidden in a popular saying)
AA.VV., Biblioteca di Cultura Gastronomica. L’uso dei formaggi nella cucina della tradizione regionale, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2017 (this and the following six books all belong to the prolific editorial activity of Accademia Italiana della Cucina. With essays and recipes, written by local experts, scholars, and gastronomes, they observe the regional Italian food traditions - meat, cheese, fish, rice, vegetables, courtyard cuisine... - from different perspectives, taking into account history, folklore, and local habits. An inestimable collection of knowledge and recipes)
AA.VV., Gli Itinerari di Cultura Gastronomica. La Cucina delle Carni da non dimenticare, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2013
AA.VV., Gli Itinerari di Cultura Gastronomica. La Cucina del Riso, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2014
AA.VV., Gli Itinerari di Cultura Gastronomica. La Cucina del Riuso, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2016
AA.VV., Gli Itinerari di Cultura Gastronomica. L’Italia della Cucina dell’Aia, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2009
AA.VV., Gli Itinerari di Cultura Gastronomica. L’Italia dell’Orto, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2007
AA.VV., Gli Itinerari di Cultura Gastronomica. L’Italia del Pesce, Accademia Italiana della cucina, 2006
Carlo Petroni, Il Libro della vera cucina toscana, Giunti Demetra, 2016 (My favourite cookbook for Tuscan recipes of the Florentine area)
Beppe Lodi and Luciano De Giacomi, Nonna Genia, Araba Fenice, 1999 (one of the most exciting discoveries during the research for Cucina Povera, a brilliant book with fun, inspiring essays and delicious, honest recipes from Le Langhe. The book is also available in English)
Lucia Lazari, Odori, sapori, colori della cucina salentina in 629 ricette di ieri e di oggi, Congedo, 1997 (big, huge love for this book that I bought the first time I visited Tommy’s family in Salento. It is the source of my favourite Salentine recipes, and the way I’m trying to create family traditions for Livia and Tommy to remember my mother-in-law, Lucia)
Gillian Riley, The Oxford Companion to Italian Food. Oxford University Press, 2007
Emilio Magni, El pancott e altre delizie: Storie e ricette perdute della tradizione brianzola e lombarda, Mursia, 2020 (I didn’t know much about Lombardy cuisine before Cucina Povera, but this book gave me a better understanding of the principles, traditions and poetry of the local cuisine)
Paolo Puddu, Il Quinto Quarto. Atesa Editrice, 2006 (Because quinto quarto, offal, is one of the cornerstones of cucina povera)
Nicoletta Montemarano, Le ricette di Nicoletta, Arduino Sacco Editore, 2009 (I’m a little jealous of this book, so consider this a huge act of generosity if I’m sharing this title with you. This little book holds most of the recipes belonging to the culinary tradition of Melfi, my grandfather’s home town in Basilicata. I’m slowly building a Southern repertoire thanks to this book)
Anna Gosetti della Salda, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane, Solares, 2005 (this is probably the book I referenced more to research regional varieties of the same recipe and local approach to ingredients. A precious collection of timeless recipes)
Pellegrino Artusi, La Scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene, Adriano Salani Editore, III edition (The book my grandma received as a wedding gift from her best friend, and the same book she gave her, as they got married exactly on the same day. This is probably the foundation of our family culinary tradition. The book is available also in English)
Ada Boni, Il Talismano della Felicità, Editoriale Domus, 1946 (I bought a second-hand Talismano and fell in love with the handwritten notes of someone else’s grandmother. This book, along with l’Artusi, as it is usually known the previous book, has been the foundation of the culinary education of Italian families for decades, and still is, for me. An abridged version is available also in English.)
Mariù Salvatori de Zuliani, A Tola co i nostri veci, La Cucina Veneziana, Franco Angeli, 2001 (a fun book written in Venetian dialect, with a comprehensive collection of the important recipes of the Venetian tradition)
Renzo Bagnasco, La vera cuciniera genovese... oggi, Panesi Edizioni, 2017
If you found this article interesting, please share the newsletter with your friends or on social media, and consider supporting our work by subscribing to Letters from Tuscany!
BOOK EVENTS AND TALKS
Gather your friends and foodie enthusiasts and join us for an unforgettable culinary experience. Taste the flavours, learn the techniques, and discover the soul of Cucina Povera at our book talks & events.
Friday, April 14, 2023 - CUCINA POVERA: The Art of Making Do With What You’ve Got - Online event with MoFad New York and Kitchen Arts and Letters. A conversation with Regula Ysewijn. Purchase tickets here.
Sunday, April 23, 2023 – Italy Off the Beaten Path with Giulia Scarpaleggia, hosted by Milk Street Live Online Cooking School. Purchase tickets here. Use CUCINA to have a 15% discount.
Book a Cooking Class in Tuscany
Choosing a class with us means escaping for a day to the slower-paced countryside, far from the charming buzz of big, touristic cities. Slow down and be ready to live a day as a local: hearty homemade food is included.
Every meal will be an excuse to travel through Tuscany thanks to local recipes, memories and stories. Learn more about our cooking classes here.
First available openings:
Wednesday, March 29th - Market to Table Cooking Class - 2 spots available
Wednesday, April 5th - Market to Table Cooking Class - 2 spots available
Thursday, April 13th - Tuscan Cooking Class - 4 spots available
Wednesday, April 26th - Market to Table Cooking Class - 4 spots available
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: If you liked reading this post, let us know by clicking on the heart button, sharing it with your friends and family, or on social media. It would help us so much to get discovered by other like-minded people.
Founded in Milan on the 29th of July 1953 by Orio Vergani with a group of well-qualified representatives of culture, industry and journalism, and recognised as a Cultural Institution of the Italian Republic since 2003, the Italian Academy of Cuisine aims to protect the traditions of Italian cuisine, whose improvement it promotes and favours in Italy and abroad.
Fascinating, thank you
Thanks, that is a really interesting post and list of books. Ada Boni is my desert island cookbook! I agree there are also some fantastically useful videos which just open up a hidden world of culinary traditions - Helen (from Bundanoon, Australia).