■ 22 October 2012 by James Martin
Something hit home this morning. A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa (!) wrote on her Facebook page thusly:
We’re living in a time where many of us are dependent on others to provide for our most basic of needs. Food, clothing, even down to our housing, insurance, what benefits we have etc.. As our economy has worsened, we have come to expect these things and instead of thinking how much more can I do for myself to ensure that we get by during these times, we get angry and expect what we have been accustomed to and given.
I consciously chose to settle in a place where folks make their own food. You know, Lunigiana folks who survived in a war-ravaged land learned to be prepared for anything. Nurturing mothers learned to cook with little. Americans never suffered like that. So the Italians seem to have always enjoyed the earth’s bounty. In other words, God-given food is preferred by Italians over the tastelessly inedible and genetically manipulated crap provided us USians by soulless corporations like Monsanto, who engineer rugs and corn and you can’t tell much of a difference. Taste-wise I mean.
So here I am. I can cook. Anyone who wants to be good at being poor needs to know how to cook. I don’t grow anything here, but I’m among people who share. It’s not bad being “dependent” upon others for some things if you create a bond with them which makes you and your talents, whatever they might be, valuable enough to that others can become equally dependent upon you for other things. Of course, that balance takes a couple of real people to achieve—corporate personhood be damned because the concept is damned.
So what am I going to do about the impending poverty that results from governments jumping on the idiotic “give everyone’s money to the rich and let them take it to a tax-free island haven if they want” mentality?
Well, as far as feeding myself is concerned, I’m simply going to practice everything I know about cucina povera. Heck, it’s already in the air here in rural Tuscany. No need to reinvent the wheel.
My version of Nuova Cucina Povera requires some artisan intervention. You see, a couple weeks ago I went out and “splurged” on an “expensive” hunk of guancale (cheek) of a cinta senese pig. A package the size of a brick cost me 8 euros.
You know how many dinners for how many people I’ve made with that brick? I mean, it was an investment like no other. Some pasta, hot peppers, onions, maybe (or maybe not) some tomatoes, and you have a meal fit for a king. With 8 euros of cinta senese cheek you can make a gourmet meal for maybe 80 people—that’s 10 eurocents per person. They’d all think you were a genius chef. You can make pasta, you can put think slices on a hunk of toasted bread. It’s all good.
You see, if you choose right, highly flavorful artisan food is laughably cheap! It’s got flavor! You’re not used to that, are you?
During the lean years, stories abound about families who would set around a table with a plate of baked polenta slices on it and a single anchovy hanging from a string tied to the rafters over it. They’d play some sort of game. The winner would be the first to rub his polenta on the anchovy for flavor. The first one to rub got lots of flavor, the next ones less. A single anchovy could last several days I’ve read.
You see, the smart money is on the intense flavors found in preserved foods. Combine them with foraged greenery and you’ve got something cheap and good. And you can forage porcini around here.
Just remember to avoid all cheap imitations. They’re expensive. For example, if you buy one of those crap balsamic vinegars you get sweetened and colored vinegar, which is good for almost nothing despite the fact that restaurants in Italy seem to be on the front lines of getting rid of the noxious crap by foisting it upon customers who order a salad.
But you buy a couple ounces of the real stuff for what you think is a fortune, you’ll find that a couple drops makes just about any gruel fit for a king. Drops!
Frugality through splurging. It’s my new mantra.
And you know what? It’s Italian all the way.
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