An Italian phrase, Cucina Povera, refers to peasant cooking. Humble, soulful food made with humble, modest ingredients. Now rather en vogue in Europe, and much of the world, this is family style food at its best. Taking modest, local produce and transforming it into a healthy, satisfying meal. This is my kind of cooking.
We usually, at least once a week, serve up an antipasto style dinner. Sometimes bread, cheese and olives, sometimes an asian style soup and some homemade sushi. It often means using up what's left in the vegetable drawer and pantry, and trying to create a tasty, creative meal. Last night, inspired by the book, The Dog Who Ate the Truffle by Suzanne Carreiro, I was moved to make a few Umbrian appetizers. And let me just say, these were humble, in the extreme. And oh so good.
First up, cauliflower crostini. Eh? I'd never heard of it, but figured it was just crazy enough to work, and besides, who am I to doubt countless generations of Italian nonnes (grandmothers)? Incredibly quick and simple, with virtually no prep work (again, my kind of cooking!), all that needs doing is chopping up some cauliflower, drizzling it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasting it in the oven. A high heat caramelizes and sweetens what can be a flavorless, verging on bitter vegetable (if not cooked properly). Once roasted, the cauliflower gets a quick whiz in the food processor with a bit more olive oil, then is spread on fresh bread. Yum. Delicious. Who knew?
Our other Umbrian-inspired dish was egg crostini. Until about 10 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, living in Portugal, and a (fish-eating, and therefore semi-) vegetarian with limited protein choices, I never liked eggs. My husband had me begin eating them, with perhaps a guilt-inducing: "It's for the baby." Oh, well, fine then. I had no idea, up to that point, that eggs could be so magical. Cooked gently (not with the arse cooked out of them, which is what I'd grown up with), they're creamy and luscious. And until very recently, I was emphatically not a lover of boiled eggs. You know that awful, sulfurous smell they get, with the greenish-greyish tinge around the yolk? Ugh. The dreaded egg sandwich in the lunchbox at school, where the kids around are all snickering at whoever brought the fart lunch? Oh yeah, I despised boiled eggs. Absolutely, vehemently despised them. Passionately.
This dish is so simple, it doesn't even sound that exciting. I promise you though, cook those eggs ever-so-gently, and you will have a little piece of heaven on your plate. Quick, easy, and very, very good. And do not, I repeat, do not, skimp on the mayonnaise. Your stomach will love you for it. (Your jeans may not, but do some extra yoga later. Or tomorrow. Or not.)
We rounded out the meal with some oven-roasted spinach, freshly pickled beets, a tuna pate, and my homemade bread. And a glass or two of wine, of course.
Here you go.
Cauliflower Crostini - makes about a cup
1/2 head cauliflower, core removed, broken into florets
salt & pepper to taste
Drizzle the cauliflower with about a tablespoon of decent olive oil, enough to lightly coat, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. You can do this right on the baking sheet, no need to dirty an extra dish. Pop into a preheated 425 degree oven, roast for about 20 minutes, turning a couple of times. Allow the cauliflower to get a bit of color, some browning will occur, which gives it its sweetness. If it begins to brown too much, turn the oven down a bit. Cook until easily pierced with a knife.
Remove from the cauliflower from the oven, and give it a go around in the food processor, adding enough oil to make it into a thick spread. For me, this was probably less than 1/8 cup, but I didn't measure, so you don't need to either! Check the seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warm on sliced, fresh, rustic bread, like ciabatta, or baguette. (Or my own recipe, found Here.) Enjoy.
Egg Crostini - makes 8 portions
4 large, preferably organic, free range eggs
Okay, so there is no hard and fast cooking time for boiling eggs, because depending on the temperature and freshness of your eggs, and your elevation, among other things, results vary. You can follow what I did, below, or try one egg first, for 5 minutes, and check to see if it's cooked as you want it.
Place eggs in a pan of cold water, enough to cover them by a good inch. Bring the pan to a boil over high heat, and as soon as it boils, turn it down to a gentle simmer, so as not to cook too rapidly, or crack the eggs. Set the timer for 6 minutes, (or see above), then remove immediately from heat, carefully pour the hot water from the pan and refill it with cold water. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, peel them, and slice into 4 or 5 slices per egg. Your yolks should be hovering on the line between soft and hard boiled, with the very center firmish, but still bright yellow.
Thickly spread mayo over some rustic, chewy bread, top with 2 or 3 egg slices, and season with salt and pepper. That's it! Easy, filling, and scrumptious. (And absolutely no stinky egg smell.)
Have an espresso afterward, as you ponder how amazingly good simple food, Cucina Povera, can be. Poor food? Ha! I wish I had learned about this kind of poor food in college...top ramen has nothing on crostini!