BErnalda is a small town on top of a hill in Basilicata, in southern Italy, whose old center so far (a little squint) makes you think of early Filini: La StradaSay, or – my favorite – El Bidoun. The streets sparkle white in the sweltering summer heat, every other building seems to be a chapel, and after lunch everyone is completely gone, reappearing at 7pm at the earliest. And the food! Its inhabitants love to eat. In the late afternoon, the small windows smell of delicious sauces and soups. Turning around, we found two women in old-fashioned aprons, sitting on the doorstep. The air was heavy with the scent of basil as they tore leaves from the stems, tossed them into an old bucket, and spoke tirelessly of their children.
Until last month, I had never been to southern Italy, and I was wondering on the plane if Cocina Povera (“Bad Cooking”) People write about it in an emotional way that still exists. But yeah, it really is, I think. At Trattoria in Matera, we ate “meatballs” made entirely of stale bread and herbs that were almost bewilderingly delicious (if I told you we wiped out the tomato sauce that was covered in slices of crunchy saffron colored Matera’s bread, you would have an idea of how delicious Matera’s bread was) Fabulous disguise). Meanwhile, at the adjoining table, some locals were eating, by way of the main course, huge plates of bitter greens, stewed until tender and dark, and drizzled with herbal olive oil – a sight that immediately brought to mind the great Patience Gray’s. mediterranean cookbook honey from cannabis.
For obvious reasons, I always think a lot about food if I’m lucky enough to be in Italy (yes, yes, you go for art and architecture). But in the South, I found that I was more curious than ever, and thoughts of the cost of living were on my mind; And when I got to Gatwick—to the tabloids about £7 Lurpaks in our supermarkets—I found that I was still anxious about what I had seen, smelled, and eaten; I wonder what ideas it might be useful to nickname a person.
In southern Italy, even edible pans seem cheap. Order an aperitif, and it will probably come, not with olives or nuts, but with tarali, those little, hard, dry somewhat ring-shaped biscuits which (in my eyes) are no substitute for cheese straws, or some anchovy butter on toast.
Breaking down isn’t always the same as cooking. I understand this. But sometimes, cooking can also make a person feel less cruel: eat like a king, and for a while you’ll feel like a king. I think the Italians know this – or maybe I mean they haven’t forgotten it yet, as many of us seem to have done. Back home, I pulled some books from my shelves that seemed to me to talk about this situation, and spent a happy hour or so thinking about what I might do in the coming weeks and months, if I had the time and energy.
A couple of recommendations. larder art By Claire Thomson Really good when it comes to using the things found, half used and half forgotten, in your closets. I love semolina gnocchi with sage butter, they are convenient and cheap; Egg, turmeric and coconut curry is good health in a bowl. But this is a fairly recent book. Perhaps, like me, you’re in the mood for something more coherent–your own pastry–the ’70s mood, after all–in this case, sending you in the direction of the 1971 classic Jocasta Innes, poor cook booka stained copy that my stepmother owned when I was growing up, and is still in print.
Ines has many ways with what used to be known as delicious rice, and devotes an entire chapter to “stuffing.” But it’s not all legumes and carbohydrates. Who could argue with the idea of an inverted candy made from a simple mixture and – yes! – A can of peaches? not me. Call it Clafoutis, and no one will ever know you have a budget.