November 19, 2011

Cucina Povera- Pamela Sheldon Johns

I was lucky to receive a review copy of Pamela's new book, Cucina Povera, Tuscan Peasant Cooking.

Pamela has a true passion for Italy and this book, her 16th I believe, is a tribute to the people that have taught us so much. The book is a pleasure to read. I kept it near my bed as reading material first before bringing it to my kitchen. The photographs and stories are as compelling as the recipes. I adore the way the book was printed. The size of the book, the paper used and the photographs. 

Pamela and I have had many of the same experiences, gathering recipes from the locals which still preserve traditions. Those that have never written down these recipes. It is a wonderful collection of simple real food, which is only found in homes.

There are so many great recipes I wanted to try and write about,but when I went out to lunch the other day in my village I ate a dish which i remembered being in the book and came home to recreate it.

Tuscans are called Mangiafagioli, bean-eaters. Beans and grains have been the protein for years, especially around the area of Lucca. The dish I ate the other day was called Cacciucco di Ceci, chickpea Cacciucco. The recipe replaces the fish in the fish soup, with chickpeas. There is a similar recipe called Inzimino, which is a squid stew with chard and tomatoes.

In Pamela's book, the recipe she uses is called Ceci Stufati. So many recipes change names and perhaps one or two ingredients just by moving a few miles. This is the beauty of Italian cooking, each mother or chef puts their twist on a recipe, mostly based on what is available locally or at the moment. This stew is made more like the fish stew by adding a tiny bit of anchovy to the recipe. A simple way to build flavor.

Ceci Stufati
stewed chickpeas 

1 cup of dried chickpeas ( garbanzo beans), rinsed and picked over
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
6 cups water, heated
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 salt-cured anchovies, rinsed and mashed
8 ounces Swiss chard, shredded
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chickpeas in a medium saucepan, and add water to cover by 2 inches.
Let soak overnight.

Drein the chickpeas. In a large, heavy saucepan, hear the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the onion is golden. Add the water, tomatoes, anchovies and drained chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to a simmer and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas for  1 1/2 hours. Add the chard and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4

From Cucina Povera, Pamela Sheldon Johns

It is easy to make with precooked chickpeas too, which makes it an easy quick dish to prepare. If you don't like anchovies, leave them out.

What is important is to cook with the best ingredients you can find and keep it simple!

Thanks Pamela for tracking down these recipes and the stories of the people that continue to pass on the traditions.


  1. Hi
    Judy, We are in agreement on this one; what a wonderful book.


  2. Such deliciousness! I grew up in Southern Italy, well known for their meager resources and for their resourcefulness as well. Soul food!

  3. Hi Judy, I am your newest follower! xo

  4. Welcome @Barbara F.
    Rosaria-- sicilian???

  5. Thank you, Judy... we sing harmony on this subject, don't we? <3

  6. @pamela- must be our Russian blood!

  7. Definitely my kind of eating!

  8. Long holiday weekend coming up..this sounds like the perfect thing to make!