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Cucina Povera: Italian Peasant Food

The twenty regions of Italy are filled with diverse landscapes, languages, and cuisine. The Italian peasant food tradition or “cucina povera” is extremely simple - composed of few ingredients yet exploding with flavor. A type of cuisine that looks a bit different from town to town, but shares a common denominator: truly farm-to-table. From the Mediterranean to the Adriatic Seas, the recipes of cucina povera represent some of the most old-world and nostalgic dishes beloved throughout the Italian peninsula. Here are five peasant recipes that will continue to endure the test of time.

Checocce, Cace e Ove from Molise

Until 1963 this beautiful area of southern Italy formed part of the region of Abruzzi e Molise, alongside the region of Abruzzo. The split, which did not become effective until 1970, makes Molise the newest region in Italy. Over the past few years, the Italian region of Molise has risen from obscurity to become the punchline of a popular meme: “Molise doesn’t exist. ” However, no one leaves Molise disappointed: here you’ll find wild nature, sea, mountains, green hills, art, and of course, great food.

This recipe is handed down from generation to generation. Preparation for a serving of 4 takes 45 minutes. You’ll need 1 medium onion, olive oil, 6 zucchini sliced into rounds, 3 mature tomatoes, 2 to 3 eggs, 2 ounces of grated Cacio cheese, a few shredded basil leaves, finely chopped sprigs of parsley, and salt and pepper. Sauté the chopped onion in a generous amount of olive oil until translucent, being careful not to let them brown. Add the sliced zucchini and the chopped tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, mix well and cover, allowing the zucchini to stew, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until tender. Add a bit of water if things get too dry. Finally, uncover the pan and turn off the heat. Add the eggs, which you will have beaten in a bowl together with grated cacio and chopped basil or parsley. Fold the egg mixture gingerly into the zucchini slices until the eggs have formed a creamy sauce that clings to the zucchini. Serve with some crusty bread. If you’re a cheese maven like myself, you can sprinkle some additional pecorino on top.

Zabaione from Piemonte

Bordering the Liguria, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna regions and Switzerland to the north and France to the west, Piedmont is a must-visit. This region is known by discerning travelers for its high-quality food and wine. Piedmont is rich in contrasts bound together by a taste for tradition and prestigious wines. Whilst the region is known for its gastronomy and famous wine regions, such as Langhe, be sure to also explore Piedmont’s other diverse landscapes. The region has many points of interest: from medieval abbeys, dramatic castles and forts, and stunning baroque towns to breathtaking alpine villages.

This is what Italians call a taste of home, and dessert doesn’t get any easier than this delicious light Italian custard. Ready in 30 minutes, this recipe for 6 portions calls for 6 egg yolks, 6 spoons full of white sugar, and dry Marsala wine. The traditional ratio is to use a half eggshell of white sugar and wine for every egg yolk, which equates to about 4 teaspoons each. So, if you’re making 6 servings, you’ll want to use three egg yolks and 1/4 cup each of sugar and wine. Feel free to adjust the sugar according to your flavor preference. Grab a heat-proof bowl and beat the sugar and egg yolks together until they turn a nearly pale white color. Add the Marsala wine and place the bowl over a saucepan with barely simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisk continuously until the custard becomes stiff and is two to three times its original size. The mixture should be about 160°F. Serve it hot in small glasses. Cinnamon or cocoa powder as toppings are also welcome.

Cozze Fritte from Puglia

Puglia is located in Southern Italy and is known worldwide as one of the most flowering regions of southern Italy. There are many things worth visiting this region for. This magical land is beautiful and fascinating every season of the year. You’ll enjoy the masserie, large, centuries-old stone country houses that are now exquisite lodgings in which one can relax and get incredible food. Many film stars had chosen these stunning locales as ideal settings for their weddings.

You may love mussels, but you’ve probably never experienced them like this. This 20-minute recipe for 4 servings requires 35 ounces of mussels, 2 eggs, flour, olive oil, and salt. Wash the mussels, place them in a pan, cover them, and cook them over high heat until they are open. Remove the mussels from their shells and toss them in the beaten eggs and then flour. Fry them in abundant hot olive oil. Dry them from excess oil and serve salted and hot.

Lobster Salad with Vernaccia wine from Sardinia

Surrounding this enchanting Italian island are the most incredibly crystal-clear waters you can find in the Mediterranean. This region’s history is well worth exploring and the food is as varied as it is delicious.

For 4 portions you’ll need 2.2 pounds of fresh lobster, 1 bottle of Vernaccia wine, the same quantity of water, 1 onion, 2 cloves, olive oil, salt, and peppercorns. Let the linked lobster boil in hot water flavored with the chopped onion, 2 cloves, and 10 peppercorns. Cook for 35 minutes, then drain and let cool. Cut it in the middle and remove the pulp from the entire lobster, including the claws. Chop into small pieces and serve with olive oil.

Granita al caffè from Sicily

What is there to say about Sicily except that it’s paradise? Everywhere you go, the sunsets, colors of its seas, hundreds of Islands, scents, and food will bring you to a celestial level. And this feeling will never leave you.

This frozen dessert is an icon of Sicilian cuisine. You’ll need 4 medium cups of strong black coffee made in a moka pot, 2.80 ounces of sugar, 6-8 glasses of water, 1 sachet of vanillin, and cinnamon powder. Let the water and sugar boil for 1 minute, pour the coffee into a jug, and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Add cinnamon, and vanillin and leave to cool completely. Once cold, pour the mixture into a freezable container and put it in the freezer for 1 hour. Mix it with a fork: you should start to see ice crystals forming at the edges. Return to the freezer for 20 minutes and stir again. Repeat once or twice more until the granita is all clumps of ice. Serve the granita in pre-chilled glasses with, if you like, a whipped cream mixture. 

Think You Know Your Italian Peasant Foods?

Barbara Benzoni

 Barbara Benzoni was born in Milan and lives between Rome and Tuscany. She is devoted to USA, the land of courage and innovation. She’s Peter's super-lucky mum and Ale's wife. Cinema, art, good food and only beautiful things are the themes of her existence. With a degree in Italian literature and a Masters in Sports Management she can both enjoys books and basketball matches. In 25 years she has been organizing sport events all over the world and she’s been lucky enough to meet the greatest champs ever. Curiosity in everyday life and people are her drivers. Her personal icon is Mohammed Ali : "It's not bragging if you can back it up".