Our Cucina Povera Dinner is a culinary dive into the heart of Italian cooking, one based on "poor" ingredients, that is, those that are readily available and inexpensive. Our docent, a culinary expert, will lead us through a dinner at a Roman trattoria selecting dishes that exemplify the cucina povera and explaining its historical and cultural importance. Not only is cucina povera still important to Italian cooking because of its history, but also because many people are now looking to it as a healthy and ecological way to eat, with its minimal quantities of meat and ingredients derived from a mixture of local cereals, legumes, and vegetables.
Cucina Povera - A Curated Dinner
Before the early 1960s, Italy was generally a poor and rural country. Thus, most people subsisted on ingredients from the larder, cereals and legumes that were easy to grow, and what could be gathered in the fields such as chicory and stinging nettles. Indeed, many of the dishes that we have come to so love today were born out of necessity and frugality. Italian families once let nothing to go to waste. Stale bread would be used for dishes such as panzanella salad or as breadcrumbs, which would be fried as a condiment for pasta or soaked in hot milk as breakfast before going to work in the fields. Leftover rice would become supplì o arancini. While many countries have similar histories with their cuisine, Italy, while poor, was fortunate to have a wealth of natural ingredients, which we will explore in this dinner.
From Famine to Feast
When meat was present in the cucina povera diet, it consisted of poor cuts of meat such as tripe, intestines and kidneys, or in sparing quantities to give flavor such as small bits of guanciale in pasta sauces. These dishes developed in particular in the important cities where there were courts and communities of wealthy people who ate the best cuts, such as in Rome with the Papal court. In many parts of Italy where people could not afford any meat in their regular diets, dishes such as pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta) and pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas) developed as a way of providing protein.
Many of the best examples of cucina povera dishes are those using ingredients that were available and freely growing in the countryside, such as risotto with nettles and soup with chestnuts. Still today, many of the vegetables that can be found in Italian markets, restaurants, and tables were those growing spontaneously in the local surroundings. Chicory comes to mind as does wild asparagus and misticanza, which essentially looks like a mixture of weeds but is delicious once boiled and then cooked up with garlic and chili pepper.
The cucina povera diet, while never abandoned altogether, is now coming back into fashion as many Italians are seeking to return to a simpler and more sustainable diet. Cucina povera, by its very nature, is local and seasonal, exemplifying an approach of minimal food waste by making the most of every available ingredient.
The trattoria where you will have your guided Cucina Povera Dinner has been carefully selected for its quality and its authentic traditional cooking. The multi-course menu will vary according to the docent as well as the season and has been carefully selected to give a wide variety of choice within the cucina povera diet. Please leave a note on your order if you have food allergies or strong objections to certain types of food.