Tuscan Peasant Cooking at its best – Eggs, Peas and Pancetta


 I often get asked if I’m interested in reviewing cookbooks but most of the time the food of the books is so different from what I cook and propose here on Lucullian that I decline. That was not the case when I was asked to review Pamela Sheldon John’s new cookbook Cucina Povera-Tuscan Peasant Cooking, I got the email and I answered Yes please! within a minute. I knew she had been working on it and I was very curious to see what the cookbook was like, which approach she had taken and, obviously, what the photography was like! I had high expectations and I was not disappointed, quite the contrary. Pamela has written many cookbooks on Italian cooking and although I have not seen all of them, I think this is her best so far.
I have a penchant for older Italian women in the kitchen, they never disappoint me with their food and Cucina Povera is filled with recipes from old women who have scrimped and saved and cooked through the poor years of WWII and the hard years afterwards. The Tuscan cuisine is not a fancy one, it is quite rustic and very much based of basic staple food like bread, beans and vegetables grown in the own plot. Sure, they do eat a lot of meat too but if you take a look at what can be considered the signature dishes of Tuscany, it all boils down to dishes that are made from those ingredients. Tuscan food is comfort food and when you read Pamela’s well researched introduction on you realize why food became a comfort during times when life was far from easy and food not that easy to find but in a  region based on basically an agrarian culture, Tuscans learnt how to cook up simple but deeply satisfying meals. And that is what you find in Cucina Povera, it is filled with wonderful recipes and stories she has collected from people she has met and the book is filled with superb photos by Andrea Wyner. This is not only a cookbook to use for good recipes, it is also a book to read and to enjoy visually and as you probably have gathered from what I have just written-I really recommend it!

 The recipe I have made was chosen for two reasons, the first was that I just couldn’t resist the old lady that you can see in the above snapshot,  Marelia, she stole my heart. The second reason is that this is a typical example of what Cucina Povera is about, three simple ingredients that is cooked and transformed into a tasty and nutritious dish.

Eggs, peas and pancetta

serves 4

60 ml/ 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
c 60 g/ 2 oz pancetta, diced (I used a little more)
240 ml/ 1 cup water
c 500 g/ 1 pound fresh or frozen peas
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat an oven to 190°C/375°F. Lightly oil four 240ml/1 cup ramekins.

 In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and sauté the onion and pancetta for 2to 3 minutes, or until softened but not browned. Add the water and bring to a boil.

 Add the peas, decrease the heat to a brisk simmer, and cook for 3 minutes.

 Drain the peas and divide them among the prepared ramekins. Make a well in the center of each cup of peas and crack an egg into the well. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover with aluminio foil and place on a baking sheet.

 Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the egg white is set. Serve at once.

eggs and peas dippy-2