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A recipe from — and a chance to win a copy of — Giulia Scarpaleggia’s beautiful book
Every once in a while I come across a book that I am so excited about that I just have to share it with you! Cucina Povera is just such a book. Roughly translated, cucina povera means peasant cooking, or arte dell’arrangiarsi; making do with what you’ve got. This is an idea that is just right for the times we live in now. It was written by Giulia Scarpaleggia, a fellow Substack writer, whose newsletter, Letters from Tuscany, focuses on — you guessed it — Tuscan food. Simple, traditional home cooking that never fails to satisfy.
This kind of cooking has been around for centuries. Seeing what’s good at the market, using what you’ve got in the pantry, and creating meals that are unforgettable in their pared-down simplicity and ability to satisfy. If you’ve ever been to Tuscany, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t, cooking from Giulia’s book will take you there (all over Italy, to be more precise).
“Traditional cucina povera dishes are immediately recognizable from some common traits: the use of humble ingredients, seasonal vegetables, and simple cooking techniques, along with a healthy dose of imagination. This culinary approach may be ancient, but it is still relevant today; it is a way of cooking that transforms simple ingredients into hearty meals that are more than the sum of their parts.” —Giulia Scarpaleggia
As you probably know, Italian cooks are known for their thriftiness. This book shows you inventive ways to roll one meal into the next and never waste a scrap of food. This is an idea that many cooks are embracing today for a variety of reasons, but Italians have been doing it for eons.
Giulia grew up in Tuscany and learned her craft from her Tuscan grandmother, but the recipes in this book are from all regions of Italy that share the cucina povera sensibility. Giulia has been exploring this way of cooking for years in the cooking classes she teaches at her home in the Tuscan countryside. If you’re interested in learning more about her classes, you can click here.
As soon as I saw the stunning cover of this book, I knew I had to have it! The simple, homey plate of hand-rolled pici pasta in the monochromatic image (lovingly shot by Giulia’s husband Tommaso Galli) really says everything you need to know about this approach to cooking. Simple, unadorned, restrained, but absolutely delicious. My husband (who spent some time as a young man living in Florence) and I were bookmarking recipes like crazy as we leafed through the book.
Here are just a few that caught my eye: Spaghetti Frittata, Grape Focaccia, Roman Fried Rice Balls, Gnocchi Baked with Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella, Fava Bean Puree with Chicory, Buckwheat Pasta with Cabbage and Cheese, Cheese and Potato Cake, and of course that cover star — Hand-Pulled Pici Pasta with Cheese and Black Pepper (cacio e pepe!). I know I picked a lot of cheesy things (I do love cheese!) but there is much, much more in the book to cook all year round.
This Risi e Bisi (Rice and Pea Soup) also caught my attention, and Giulia and Artisan Books were kind enough to let me share the recipe with you today.
You can order a signed copy of Giulia’s book from Omnivore Books or an unsigned copy wherever books are sold.
But you can also enter to win a copy by telling me in the comments why you want — no, why you need — this book! I’ll pick a giveaway winner at random on Monday, April 17, at noon (so be sure to comment before then to enter!).
See the bottom of this post for the giveaway fine print. And good luck to all!
Risi e bisi
Rice and Pea Soup
By Giulia Scarpaleggia
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
Risi e bisi, literally “rice and peas,” is one of the most representative dishes of Veneto and a perfect example of the nutritious and balanced marriage of carbs and vegetable protein. Use fresh organic peas in the pod for this dish if you can get them. Make a stock out of the pods, which will infuse the soup with an intense flavor. Then strain the stock and blend the pods into a puree, to add creaminess to the soup. Not precisely a soup or a risotto, risi e bisi should be soft but not too loose, creamy but not too dense. For a quicker version, use 1½ cups/255 g shelled peas, either fresh or frozen, and 3 cups/720 ml vegetable stock (skipping the pea pod puree). The dish is a warm and delicious welcome to spring.
2 pounds/1 kg peas in the pod (about 1 ⅔ cups/255 g shelled peas; see headnote)
6 tablespoons/85 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 spring onion or 6 scallions, finely chopped
2 ounces/60 g pancetta, diced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1 ¼ cups/255 g Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup/25 g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Make the pea stock: Shell the peas into a small bowl and set aside. Transfer the pods to a colander. Remove the tough stems and the strings from the pods.
Transfer the pea pods to a medium pot, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the pods are very tender.
Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, then transfer the pods to a food processor and process until smooth. Pass the pea pod puree through a fine-mesh strainer set over a clean bowl, pressing on the solids to release as much puree as possible. You should have about 2 cups/500 g puree and 3 ½ cups/840 ml stock.
Make the risi e bisi: In a medium saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons/45 g of the butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the spring onion, pancetta, parsley, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened and golden. Add the peas and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add the pea stock, stir, and return to a simmer. Add the rice and simmer, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
Add the pea pod puree and cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.
Remove from the heat, taste, and season with the salt and pepper. Add the remaining butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, stir, and serve immediately.
This giveaway is open to residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, 18 years old or older. No purchase necessary. All federal, state, and local regulations apply. Limit one entry per person. Void where prohibited or restricted.