The traditional Italian dish of spaghetti with potatoes, known as “pasta e patate”

The modest style of Italian peasant cooking known as “cucina povera” is epitomized by this warm and reassuring dish consisting of melted cheese, mashed potatoes, and pasta in a creamy sauce.

Cucina povera, which translates as “poor kitchen” in English, is an age-old method of preparing Italian food that adheres to the principles of frugality and avoidance of waste. The word “cucina povera” refers to a style of cooking that was born out of necessity and is characterized by simplicity without sacrificing flavor; it is uncomplicated yet in no way forgettable.

recipes from the cuisine known as cucina povera have a long and illustrious history, and they are firmly interwoven in both the culture of Italy and the day-to-day existence of many families. These recipes have been providing families with sustenance for generations. Cucina povera is thought by food historians to have its roots in the rural traditions of “peasant cooking,” which date back far before Italy was unified in 1870 and were initially developed for manual laborers in need of economical sustenance. The precise origins of cucina povera are not particularly clear, although food historians say that cucina povera has its roots in the countryside. As a result, recipes from the cucina povera cuisine make excellent use of simple items that are either inexpensive or leftovers. Think of small animals like rabbits and chickens, both of which are easy to hunt, or less popular offal cuts from pigs and cattle, as well as beans, legumes, and lots of carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes, and bread. All of these types of animals are easy to track down.

Cucina povera is responsible for the creation of some of Italy’s most well-known and adored foods. Panzanella and ribollita are two examples of dishes that make use of stale bread. Classic dishes like cacio e pepe, pasta puttanesca, and carbonara are all made with pasta, which is another inexpensive component. One dish that stands out is called pasta e patate, and it mixes two inexpensive ingredients—pasta and potatoes—in a way that is both soupy and delicious, and it is still loved today.

Giulia Scarpaleggia, a Tuscan food writer, novelist, and instructor of cooking classes, noted that “cucina povera” is the style of cuisine that has been practiced in her family for as long as she can remember. In 2009, Scarpaleggia gave birth to her cooking blog under the name Juls’ Kitchen. The blog was inspired by a deep-seated enthusiasm for Tuscan cuisine that is straightforward and traditional. Since then, she has been the host of cooking lessons as well as a podcast that is entitled Cooking with an Italian Accent. The new edition of her cookbook, titled Cucina Povera: The Italian Way of Transforming Humble Ingredients into Unforgettable Meals, was released in April of 2023.

“I wanted it to be a comprehensive book on the Italian cucina povera tradition,” said Scarpaleggia about his goal for the publication. “There had to be weeknight meal ideas, something you could quickly stir together with pantry ingredients,” “there had to be seasonal recipes, where the freshness of the produce could shine through simple preparations,” and “there had to be celebratory dishes, designed to feed small crowds and exalt the Italian joy of conviviality.”

One of the most delicious dishes in the book is called Pasta and Potatoes, and it consists of alternating layers of pasta and mashed potatoes that are held together with melted cheese. Simply put, it is the epitome of deliciously satisfying comfort food.

“My grandma Marcella learned to cook pasta with potatoes from my Aunt Valeria, who was from Basilicata, which is in the south of Italy,” Scarpaleggia explained. “My Aunt Valeria was from the region of Basilicata.” “From that day many, many years ago, she devised her own recipe, reworking it according to the items we used, as well as her own preferences in flavor and preparation. For instance, we use grated Parmigiano Reggiano and also the leftover crusts of Parmigiano, which are cut into cubes, in place of caciocavallo, which is a cheese from the southern region of Italy that is firm and has a tangy flavor and is shaped like a pear. After being subjected to prolonged boiling, they take on a tender and chewy consistency, imparting a robust flavor to the broth in the process.

Although Scarpaleggia has wonderful memories of her grandmother’s recipe for pasta and potatoes, the recipe in the book is more in line with the traditional version of pasta and potatoes that is served in Naples. Although Scarpaleggia has fond memories of her grandmother’s recipe for pasta and potatoes, the recipe in the book is more in line with the traditional version that is served in Naples.

“The Neapolitan version, which is neither a soup nor a simple plate of pasta, is typically described as azzeccata, which means it is dense, creamy, and well mixed,” noted Scarpaleggia. “This is all thanks to the stringy melted provolone cheese that binds it all together.” “The Parmigiano Reggiano rind, which cooks together with the pasta and potatoes to create an additional layer of flavor in the dish, is an essential ingredient.”

The onion, celery, and garlic that make up the base of Scarpaleggi’s recipe are first softened in extra virgin olive oil before being used in the preparation. After the addition of white potatoes and pancetta, the next ingredients to go in are water, tomatoes, and the rind of Parmigiano Reggiano. It is recommended by Scarpaleggia that the potatoes be cooked until they are completely soft. The readiness of the potatoes can be determined by mashing them with a wooden spoon against the sides of the pot. When the potatoes are done when they are easily able to be mashed.

The following step is to incorporate pasta mista. This assortment of pasta shapes is a prime example of the thrifty cooking style known as cucina povera. It was first created in Naples as a way to use up scraps of pasta that had been chopped off during the manufacturing process. When the pasta mista has reached the perfect texture of al dente, both grated and cubed provolone cheese are added and combined until smooth and melted.

“Before I tried the Neapolitan version of pasta and potatoes, I always made it the way my grandmother would,” said Scarpaleggia. “But now I make it just like they do in Naples.” When I saw spaghetti and potatoes on the menu at the neighborhood market where we were having lunch with some friends, we were sitting in this tiny bistro that was quite crowded and loud. I couldn’t resist getting it, especially considering that it was crafted with provola (sometimes spelled provolone), a delectable local cheese. That completely shifted the course of my life; it was like having comfort food in front of me!

Recipe for pasta, potatoes, and greens

Giulia Scarpaleggia is the author.

As a starter, it can serve anywhere from 4 to 6 people.

The method

Step 1
Olive oil should be poured into a big saucepan and heated on a low setting. After adding the onion, celery, and garlic, as well as a hefty teaspoon of salt, continue to simmer the veggies while stirring occasionally for around ten minutes, or until the vegetables have become soft.

Step 2

Add the potatoes and pancetta, mix, and continue cooking for approximately 5 minutes, taking care to prevent the potatoes from browning. Pour in the boiling water (there should be enough to cover the potatoes), add the tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, and then simmer the mixture for about 25 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes can be easily mashed against the sides of the pot with a wooden spoon.

Step 3
After adding the pasta and thoroughly stirring it, pour in the remaining 480 milliliters and two cups of boiling water. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking for around ten minutes, or until the soup has thickened and the pasta is al dente.

Step 4
Take the pot off the heat, add the cheeses, and stir them together vigorously so that they melt together. Test the flavor, and if necessary, adjust the seasoning by adding more salt and pepper.

Step 5 Place the soup in bowls that have been heated, drizzle each dish with olive oil, and season with pepper before serving. The rind of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese can be broken up into smaller pieces and placed in each bowl. Any soup that is left over after serving can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Reheat the mixture carefully over low heat, and if it seems too thick, thin it out with a little bit of water.

spaghetti mista is now commonplace in many kitchens and can even be purchased, but you can get the same effect by using a variety of different shapes of spaghetti instead.

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