Apparently, the Italians are returning once more to ‘cucina povera’, the tradition of producing delectable dishes using the cheapest ingredients.
The best known dishes gracing the tables of the latest generation of economically stretched Italian families include panzanella, the salad made from stale bread and tomatoes, and the bread ‘n veg soup (I detect a bread theme) they call ribollita.
The southern Europeans also have ways of making meat go further. I’d bet my life that whatever they are doing in their kitchens would suit the tastes of even the more sceptical UK palates. What ends up on the plate is scrumptious, winter-warming, creatively assembled, inexpensive nosh. What’s not to like, as a youth-oriented Italophile chef (like Jamie Oliver) might say?
Unfortunately, it is strangely difficult here in the UK to buy the cheap meat that we could use to adopt a British take on cucina povera. A supermarket will provide you with cheap processed food, and will also tempt you with steaks and other pricier slabs of meat. But if you are after some offal, even of the less extreme kind such as lamb kidney or oxtail), you may well return home empty handed.
Of course, we could go to butchers’ shops. But thanks to lack of custom there are no longer enough, and those that do exist are located inconveniently far from our offices (and have shut up shop by 5pm).
I sometimes venture out of rural Sussex and spend a day in London, where I see all manner of obscure but affordable meat products in the freezers of Asian or Caribbean groceries. The problem with us Brits is more a matter of mindset. We think equate a cheap supper with a dreary Findus crispy pancake. Where’s the fun in that? Our purses may be empty but we could still take pride in filling stomachs with creative flair.