The Simple Kitchen: Learning a Lesson from Leaner Times

Once upon a time in Southern Italy, between World Wars I and II, ingredients were scarce and bellies were empty. The Italians, who have carried on a love affair with food for as long as anyone can recall, were obliged to get creative in the kitchen. From these lean times, the famed Italian tradition of cucina povera was born. Cucina povera literally means “the poor kitchen,” but is often translated as “the peasant kitchen.” This cooking style can be summed up by the following maxims:

1.Buy few ingredients
2)Make do with what you’ve got
3)Don’t waste anything

The United States experienced similarly lean times during World War II, which food writer M.F.K. Fisher chronicled in her classic How To Cook a Wolf (the wolf being hunger), about how to combine a few humble ingredients to create something delicious.

Americans abandoned their version of cucina povera after abundance returned and convenience food came into vogue. But whenever I’m crunched for time, come home to an empty fridge, or don’t know what to make for dinner, I return to la cucina povera, or, as like to call it la cucina semplice— “the simple kitchen.”

The following recipe for fettucine al olio, pomodorini, e cipolline verde is one of the cucina semplice recipes I created, inspired by an empty fridge. After 17 years of marriage and many, far more complex dishes, this simple little pasta has become one of my husband Mimmo’s favorite meals.

Fettucine al Olio, Pomodorini, e Cipolline Verde
Fettucine with Olive Oil, Cherry Tomatoes, and Green Onions

1/2 box cherry tomatoes
1 bunch of green onions, chopped finely
1 bulb of garlic, minced
1 box fettuccine pasta
Pinch hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil (yes this much oil; it cooks down and becomes the sauce)
1 tsp salt

Set water to boil in a large pot. Add a pinch of salt.

Prep the vegetables—cut the tomatoes in half, chop the onions, mince the garlic

Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium low heat. Wait for the oil to heat up, then add the garlic and pepper flakes. Stir, let the flavors marry with the oil for a minute or two.

Add the onions, tomatoes, and some salt.

Cover the saucepan and let the vegetables soften and reduce on medium-low heat for 10-20minutes.

Add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until al dente, 7-10 minutes.

Drain pasta in colander in the sink. Transfer back to pot and toss in sauce. Adjust for spiciness and salt.

The green onions give this pasta some freshness, and the hot peppers add a little kick of spice. Not bad for a meal intended to “make do.”

Learn more about Rosanna Bowles

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