American-Italian chef, olive oil producer, and Tuscany bed-and-breakfast owner Pamela Sheldon Johns is touring with her new cookbook, Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking, this week. We decided to sit down with the Italian cooking guru, and since her latest book looks at “good food for hard times," we asked Johns about shopping organic and cooking for less.
So tell us about this new book, Cucina Povera.
The point is to use some very simple and low-cost ingredients and different cuts of meats to cook something really delicious that doesn’t cost a lot. All the classic recipes of Tuscany have roots in this simple, economic cuisine.
There are a lot of historic stories about peasant cooking through World War II. What did you hope they would bring to the book?
I think there’s a lot that we can learn from listening to some of these stories. It’s touching if nothing else and it makes us also realize that sometimes we think we have it hard now, but compared to things not that long ago, we’ve got it pretty good.
One of your key points is shopping organically. Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive to cooking for less?
Let’s say you have an heirloom tomato versus a tomato that is in a supermarket in January — perfectly round, no blemishes, and no taste, really. You get one good-tasting tomato; it’s worth 10 flavorless tomatoes.
So it’s more about flavor than anything?
People tend to put a lot of cheese on top of things or a lot of cream sauces on top of foods, millions of ingredients to try to find some flavor and satisfaction. You eat more and more, seconds and thirds because you’re trying to feel satisfied.
But if you seek out ingredients that haven’t been genetically modified, something that’s got a lot of flavor, you don’t have to put cream sauces on. And if you take one bite and immediately get some satisfaction out of it, you might not feel so needy.
Pamela Sheldon Johns will be hosting a cooking class at Eataly in New York City on November 17. She is also presenting an olive oil seminar and tasting event on November 18 at The Culinary Loft for a Cook for Your Life fundraising event, which promotes healthy eating for cancer patients.
Johns plans to tour Florida and the Northwest coast in February and March. Click here to see her recipes for braised beef with marrow and shallots, spinach and ricotta dumplings, and salted cod with greens from Cucina Povera.
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