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The Traditions of La Cucina Povera

Through a mist of rain, I made my way to Ketchum’s Kitchen for my very first IACP conference event this year, La Cucina Povera.

LA CUCINA POVERA – a way of cooking traditional to Southern Italy, understanding the value of a mostly plant-based diet using locally grown grains, stretching animal protein as far as possible


Pot used by Chef Whims to cook shell beans in the embers of a wood-burning fire – Fagioli in Fiasco.

Chef Cathy Whims, of Portland, Oregon’s Italian restaurant Nostrana restaurant and Anthony Boutard, owner of Ayers Creek Farm and author of Beautiful Corn worked in tandem, combining Boutard’s ingredients and food history knowledge with Whims cooking know-how to demo the traditions of La Cucina Povera.


Chef Cathy Whims from Portland, Oregon restaurant Nostrana

Whims chatted with us about a recent trip to Puglia; she was amazed how the idea of la cucina povera stretched from the most casual to the fanciest fine dining restaurant during her trip. She demonstrated several dishes using Ayers Creek Farm products to show what she meant by La Cucina Povera.


Polenta paddle given to Chef Whims as a gift – used to stir polenta as it is cooking to stop it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Using a mixture of foraged greens from Ayers Creek Farm – called misticanza in Italian – she made Fava Beans with Potato, Sow Thistle, Dandelion. It’s a very traditional dish in Puglia, but one that’s popped up on a bunch of fine dining menus in the past 15 years.


Fava Beans with Potato, Sow Thistle and Dandelion Greens

Here are some of the greens foraged from Boutard’s property for this dish:



Sow Thistle


Radish Greens

Another example of the sort of frugality that’s a big part of La Cucina Povera – Alimentari in Italy sell dried pasta in large bins, and typically take the broken pieces at the bottom of the bin, combine them and sell them at a discount. Whims made a pasta dish of this mixture, together with some mussels, chickpeas, tomatoes and fresh basil. The mixture of different shapes that cook at different rates meant that this dish contained pasta at different levels of al dente.


Pasta Mista with Mussels and Chickpeas

Finally, we sampled a deliciously cheesy polenta that Whims cooked for the entire 2 hours of the class, using Boutard’s dried polenta. Since the polenta was made using a dark heirloom corn, flecks of the dark outside of the corn made the dried mixture have a speckled appearance, but it had a real depth of flavor.


Ayers Creek Farm dried polenta

The polenta was cooked in a traditional copper polenta pot. The narrow bottom prevents burning.


Copper polenta pot


Finito! Ayers Creek Farm Polenta made using Point Reyes Blue, Fontina Val d’Aosta and Parmesan


About francoiseeats

I'm currently working as a freelance travel and food writer, and photographer. I spent two years at, the culinary on-line magazine for the industry insider. My articles have been published in New York, NY and Richmond, VA. After graduating from Columbia University and recovering from the tragedy of not being able to read Camus books for a living, I attended The Culinary Institute of America, where my scone consumption rose drastically. Fluent in French and Italian, I've worked in some of New York's top restaurants and covered food-related stories in a number of publications, from The Richmond Times-Dispatch to Time Out New York.

2 responses »

  1. Hi Francoise! It was a pleasure meeting you at IACP. Cathy’s class was the highlight of the conference for me, and I enjoyed reading your recap here. I didn’t capture images of the beautiful copper pot and polenta paddle and was glad to see that you did. My little bag of Calais polenta fell out of the refrigerator door yesterday, reminding me I must use it soon! All the best – Karen


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