Sunday, February 2, 2020

Cucina Povera - Peasant Food - A New Series

Whenever young people ask me how I learned to cook, my response is, "Poverty is the best teacher." True story. I became a serious cook in graduate school when I was receiving Food Stamps.

In Indiana in 1995 the maximum amount a single person could receive was $100 a month. It didn't last the month, and quickly I learned that a 5 lb bag of flour and some yeast cost so much less that buying bread. So I began to make my own bread, and my own quiche crust, and pasta, and the list goes on.

Later I discovered the term "Cucina Povera" which in Italian means "Poor cooking," referring to how people with little learn to stretch meals and still make them taste good. That resonated with me since it was what I termed "Peasant Food" which I loved best: quiche from France, pasta from Italy, quesadillas from Mexico, dal from India, sushi (with tofu) from Japan, fried rice from China (ok, so fried rice is sooo Chinese American, but I didn't know at the time!)

Because meat was beyond my budget and tofu was cheap, I became a vegetarian. Vegetarian cookbooks from the '70s were big on whole grains and not so great on flavor, so I learned to vegetarianize meat dishes to satisfy my need for tasty food. And along the way I became a pretty good cook.

So when people ask me, "But HOW did you learn to cook?" I tell them by doing it for years. To help nudge new cooks into cooking more I'm starting Cucina Povera: simple preparations, inexpensive ingredients, tasty food. The ingredients should become staples in your pantry so that a quick meal is always just a cupboard a way. That's Cucina Povera in a nutshell!

While most new cooks know about pasta and red sauce, here's something to change it up for you:  - rice noodles with soy sauce, garlic, ginger and mirin (rice wine, key ingredient in sushi rice). You can add scallions or tofu or whatever floats your boat. But this is a nice change from Italian style pasta!

Fried Rice Stick Noodles with Garlic