I think the concept that best explains how I think about food is the notion of Cucina Povera. This Tuscan concept is one born out of humble and peasant ingredients both afforded in the region of Italy and grown locally. The phrase Cucina Povera means “poor kitchen.” The idea is almost more of a technique and a way of thinking rather than just a bare cupboard. Leftover bread becomes a thickener and method of stretching soup, yesterday’s pasta becomes today’s soup and so on. Cucina Povera is the way many of our grandparents functioned in their kitchens and is similar to how many chefs work in professional kitchens.
In the kosher kitchen, we only have so many ingredients to work with, both at home and professionally. Many ingredients that most chefs take for granted are not part of my daily repertoire due to kosher restrictions. I have a meat and pareve kitchen and cannot just add cream to a soup or sauce to thicken it. I have to work a bit harder and find other ways that fit into the kosher laws. I do not believe in using faux foods for substitutions and I look to natural ingredients that are already kosher and in season. In the spirit of Cucina Povera, I embrace my constraints, accept the materials I have to work with and move on. I always say that if a recipe cannot be made without completely mutilating it then do not make it. I have never put soy crème brulees on my menus and never will. I also do not sell faux crab or mock sour cream. Real sour cream is amazing and who doesn’t love crème brulee? I know I do after a dairy or pareve meal. The artificial stuff doesn’t come close and I have too much respect for my ingredients, clients and family to ever serve ersatz food.
Kashrut is all about making choices; not getting around them with cheap imitations. Do as the Tuscans do and look at what is growing locally and in season. Make the most of it and Buon Appetito!
The name of this hearty Tuscan soup means “twice boiled.” Traditionally, it was made from leftover minestrone soup combined with stale bread to create a new dish. In the spirit of “Cucina Povera,” I add the rind of Parmesan cheese to the stock, which adds a refined richness to the dish. I save the rinds from Parmesan cheese in a bag in my freezer. Anytime I need an extra boost of flavor, in go the rinds. Serve this soup with chunks of garlicky toast to contrast with the creamy beans.
2 cups cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 small leek, white part only, chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped plus 1 additional clove of garlic
One small head Savoy cabbage, shredded and chopped
1 bunch cavolo nero* or kale
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into one-half inch dice
1 cup bite-size pieces of green beans
1 can whole tomatoes with their juices, broken up with your hands
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bouquet garni of 6 sprigs of thyme, 6 parsley stems and 1 bay leaf tied together with kitchen twine
6 cups vegetable stock or water
Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
4 slices stale Italian bread, sliced 1-inch thick and toasted
Extra virgin olive oil for garnishing (I use an unfiltered, organic oil)
Parmesan cheese for garnish
- Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Place the beans in a large pot covered with water. Simmer the beans until they are cooked through and creamy in the center without any grittiness (about 1 1/2 hours). Drain and set aside.
- Place the remaining ingredients, except for the additional clove of garlic and bread, in large soup pot and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking for 1 hour. Add the cooked beans to the soup. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Rub the toasted bread with the garlic clove. Place the toasted bread on top of the soup. Press down lightly on it. Cover and continue cooking for 30 minutes.
- Serve the soup drizzled with olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.
*Cavolo nero translates to “black kale.” This variety of cabbage does not form heads but rather looks like big dark green or purplish black leaves. Cavolo nero can be found in some specialty stores, but if it is not available in your area, you can substitute Swiss chard, kale or any hearty braising green.