I mentioned the other day how cucina povera was capturing the imagination of foodies the world over and yesterday we had three courses of the famed style of cooking.
It is turning into a big business down here in Puglia and nowhere more so than in Lecce which for years had been known more for it’s baroque architecture than it’s cooking. Indeed some named it the Florence of the south which was to be fair a wild exaggeration and led to quite a few disappointed tourists.
Lecce now boasts lots of cooking schools where people can come to learn about the humble style of cooking and how to transform fave beans, turnip tops, broccoli rabe, chicory,wild asparagus and common ( for here) edible weeds into culinary dishes.
Nor is it just foodies that attend the week long courses but restauranteurs and celebrity chefs now make up some of the attendees.
Last year Unesco awarded the Mediterranean diet — of which cucina povera is very much a part — status as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The organization even singled out its matriarchal debt. “Women play a particularly vital role in the transmission of expertise,” says the Unesco website, “and the safeguarding of techniques.”
The format is pretty much the same which ever school you attend. First a visit to the local market where you learn what ingredients you buy and as importantly what they look like. Then to a locals kitchen to learn how to cook it. For effects sake it is best if the local is an elderly woman who everyone can call La nonna ( grandmother) . The purchases are then cooked under the watchful eye of La nonna and then to much fanfare the finished articles are eaten around a communal table often with a variety of wines to taste and then buy.
What is lacking however at all these schools in Lecce is the real secret of cucine povera, the gathering of the ingredients in the fields and hedgerows in the countryside, much of what is gathered is not available in the local market because it needs to be eaten that day to get the full flavours.
On the very odd day when I am up and about at 5.30 a.m. it is not unusual for me to see 8-10 people out in the surrounding fields looking for produce. this number doubles after rain the previous day as the mushrooms are then abundant. Maybe I should start a small school . I know several nonne who look the part
Yesterday at lunch there was quite a crowd
We started with brodo con tortellini ( soup with pasta and veg)
Then cicoria with a meat based sauce
a word of warning on cicoria, it seems to cover a variety of sins in cucina povera. Almost anything green that is gathered in the fields seems to be called cicoria and so you really have no idea what you are having and maybe they don’t either come to think of it.
We moved on to cardoncini which you can see in the group photo and I blogged about last week.
All the dishes were washed down at the male only end of the table with red wines and at the female end with water and coca cola . The guy sitting on the left of the head of table as you look at the photo brought his home made wines and good they were. He brought three different types, one very dry, one dry and one slightly sweeter. His father actually makes the wine and he just does the heavy lifting and lots of the field work as his father is in his 80’s now.
I bought my grapes from him when I tried my hand at wine making but this year I am going to be more involved in the actual growing of the grapes. His father is then going to teach me how to make good wine that will last a little longer than 6 months. Hopefully it will improve my Italian as well.
I am still doing Duolingo on the iPad and discovered a good wheeze yesterday. The two young girls in the photo are learning English and lots of the Duolingo Italian lesson is to translate from the English or visa versa so is as good for Italians learning English. So I handed them the iPad and the two busied themselves forging ahead with my lessons.
I got an e mail from “coach” at Duolingo praising my keenness yesterday and the amount of work I had completed. Seems I have a couple of days off as the girls have put me way ahead of my daily goal. So great lunch, great wine and an Italian lesson holiday as well.
Result ! as everyone seems to say these days.