La Cucina Povera.   In it’s literal sense,  “The Poor Kitchen”,  but over the past 10 or 20 years, it’s come to represent a certain renaissance in mainstream cooking.  A certain, rustic, simplistic return to cooking that bears little resemblance to novella cuisine or dishes that brag about “seaweed foam” and other engineered ingredients.  But to further understand the nature of this gastronomic trend, you need to turn back the clock to the mid 1900’s.  

Post World War II  Italy was a country suffering from a harsh war that ruined ancient sites like Monte Cassino and reduced some classic cities to rubble.  Infrastructure was damaged and the economy, largely already agrarian, became even more dependent upon locally grown products with an added emphasis on grains, legumes and vegetables.

~ American Soldiers march past the Colosseum in Rome ~
Meat and dairy products, especially eggs and cheese were very hard to come by and the concept of “Cucina Povera” was  invented by necessity; simplistic, honest cooking that relied heavily on completely using and re-purposing certain ingredients.  Nothing was wasted.  Nothing was thrown away.  Leftover pasta?  Make a frittata.  Stale bread, mill them to bread crumbs.  A rainy few days?  Forage for mushrooms.  


Today, la cucina povera has come to mean simple, unextravagant cooking  that uses only a few fresh items, without expensive ingredients, that are minimally prepared.  Today’s recipe is an homage to this peasant cooking.  I have stayed true to the notion with one exception:  I had a few leftover shrimp I wanted to use.  While the intent of not wasting leftovers is well represented,  an ingredient this expensive normally would not be featured. 

Pasta Povera

1 pound Orecchiete Pasta
8 oz. Crimini Mushrooms, sliced
4 fresh tomatoes, loosely seeded and chopped
1 dozen shrimp
1 sweet onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Toasted Panko Breadcrumbs

Start by adding some extra virgin olive oil in a pan and saute the garlic until it starts to soften.  Add the onions, mushrooms and tomatoes and cook 15-20 minutes over medium heat until the onions soften and the tomatoes completely break down.

~ The sauce in the foreground.  Background,  toasting the panko breadcrumbs.  In Italy, especially in the south,  when people could not afford cheese, they would often substitute toasted breadcrumbs. ~ 

Meanwhile, drizzle a little olive oil in a non-stick pan and lightly toast a few handfuls of panko breadcrumbs.  This “replacement” for cheese was a staple, especially in the South of Italy,  and they add an ethereal texture to the dish. 
As the pasta is nearing al dente,  add the shrimp to the pan and toss 3-5 minutes until they cook through.  Drain the pasta, toss and serve.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs as you would cheese.  They get caught inside the Orecchiete for an amazing bite! 

~ Orecchiete with Shrimp and Toasted Bread Crumbs ~ 



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