Cucina povera: The art of doing a lot with a little
Learning to do a lot with a little is one of the best cooking (and life!) lessons Italian tradition has taught us.
Sometimes, it feels like we need fancy ingredients to put something great on the table or add a little pizzazz to our plates. But Italian cooking has proven to us time and time again that with only a few simple, quality ingredients, a bit of know-how, and a smidge of creativity, anyone can prepare a feast from just the basics. Whether it’s the best of times or, well, tougher times, the rich repertoire of cucina povera (peasant cooking) from every part of the Mediterranean boot continues to spark our imagination. I, for one, love to go back to these timeless recipes for inspiration, but also much-needed confirmation that eating well doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.
In honour of doing things fuss-free, here are eight incredibly inventive recipes that are sure to restore the reputation of humble and easy-to-find ingredients. Be it meat and fish, vegetables, pasta, or legumes, we bet you’ll find something simply perfect for you and your loved ones.
This dish, made with basic shelf ingredients such as canned tuna, was supposedly invented by travelling salesmen, steering their carretta (cart) across the country. When midday came, they would pick through their stocks to whip up lunch. You know, a quick bite on the road!
Legumes have long been known as the “meat of the poor”, but trust us—there is no shortage of flavour here! One of the most iconic Italian dishes, pasta e fagioli is as comforting as it is filling.
It’s common knowledge that modest meats love a gentle simmer. And with slow cooking, creating scrumptious meals with only a few simple, budget-friendly ingredients is easy. For this one, we rely on the humble chicken drumstick, tomatoes, and basil to prepare a luscious, saucy dish that goes really well with our mezzi rigatoni. Dig in!
Part soup, part stew, ribollita is a filling Tuscan classic made with beans, vegetables, tomato sauce, day-old bread, and herbs. It’s basically the perfect dish to warm the hearts and bellies of everyone at the table, especially when there’s a nip in the air.
Italian inventiveness has paved the way for an array of lip-smacking and inexpensive recipes, such as this vegetarian ragù prepared in bianco, meaning without tomatoes. It’s evidence that with a little imagination and flair, you can prepare knockout dishes with only a handful of ingredients. Here’s a new, easy, and hearty meal for your repertoire!
The most Italian of Italian soups. Normally without meatballs, I sometimes like to add small ones to make it even heartier. With chard, squash, and beans, it’s a nutritious and comforting soup fit for a meal.
Acquacotta translates to cooked water, but it also means Tuscany by the spoonful. This is another great example of cucina povera, where humble ingredients are transformed into a supremely satisfying meal.
Spaghetti aglio e olio is as simple as it gets! A recipe you want to have on hand for last-minute dinners and busy weeknight you can make from pantry staples. As long as you have a bag of pasta, extra virgin olive oil and garlic on hand, you’re good to go.