Nicky Pellegrino is the author of 12 novels, many of which have been published internationally. Her latest book is PS Come To Italy (published by Hachette in 2023).
Winter warming recipes from NZ’s best food writers
I started cooking like my father. Dino Pellegrino grew up in southern Italy during the war and was often starving. It has made him thrifty, especially in the kitchen. A small amount of meat was used to flavor the dish and we ate whatever special vegetables were fortified with beans, rice and pasta. I was annoyed when they gave me spaghetti sauce for 5 people and only 1 slice of bacon. I complain that I can afford to use the whole packet. But now, every time I go grocery shopping, I back off in amazement at the price hike, and see the wisdom in his methods.
My father makes the classic Italian poor people’s dish “cucina povera”. Nearly every country with a history of peasant classes surviving on meager food would have evolved similar dishes. It’s cheap, nutritious, and most importantly delicious. And, at least in Italy, each family prepares the dish differently, but of course that’s the right way to do it.
During the winter, a typical weeknight dinner at my house is pasta e fagioli, a steamed bowl of mixed pasta and beans. When I told the Neapolitan chef that my version included celery and pancetta, he was clearly surprised. His pasta e fagioli had only a few ingredients, he only had three. But there are no rules for poor people’s diets. I cook with whatever happens to be.
You don’t even need a recipe, actually. Just an idea of what you want to eat is enough. Cold, wet winter nights call for something warm and cozy. So I sauté some chopped onions with a little chopped pancetta or bacon and add a jar of passata and some diced carrots and celery, especially the leaves. If you feel like eating kale, you can add kale. You should definitely chuck canned red or white beans. Next, add water or stock (I often use powdered Vegeta chicken stock, but it’s really salty, even though the label says it’s low sodium, so don’t add extra salt. ). Simmer until vegetables are tender, adding more liquid as needed. If you want to go even further, you can boil the pasta in a separate pot and mix it in at the end.
My father was a shrewd distributor. Late Saturday afternoons, he hangs around supermarkets until he drops prices on “exotic” vegetables that no one in the north of England could buy at the time. peppers and eggplants. I find myself shopping like him now. I collect food here and there, from many small places. It’s almost become my hobby. There’s a shop called Eurodell in West Auckland that’s perfect for pancetta and my favorite soft, spicy Calabrian sausage, ‘Nduja. You can buy fruits and vegetables from the orchard store, and Italian hard cheese boards from the interesting little grocery store on Ponsonby Street.
Some of my father’s dishes I never make. Anything related to internal organs. His pasta with potatoes is served with a basket of bread. Because it’s like being beaten with carbs. The dish, which he called spezzatino, seemed to be just chewy meat mixed with peas. I’m sure there’s a better way to make this Italian beef stew, but I haven’t tried it. Why would I do that when I can enjoy his cabbage and rice with my spicy hit “Nduya,” even though the very thought makes him shake his head and empty his hands. I know you’re going to jump into it and say, Oh no~.
Food is love for me and my dad. And neither should pay a high price.
green cabbage (savoy is better)
pancetta or bacon
nduja or chili
chicken stock soup
Pour plenty of olive oil into a large skillet or casserole and lightly sauté the chopped onions, minced pancetta, and generous amount of garlic. I don’t know that cloves are there). Add some nduja chunks or chilli flakes. Add the chopped cabbage and sauté until tender. Then add a little more water or chicken stock, about half a finger, and more if needed. I’m not making soup, but I want my dish to have a slightly soupy consistency and the cabbage to cook well. Cook the rice in another pot. I prefer brown, but I think we all know what my dad would say about it.
When the cabbage is soft, mix it with the rice, place it in a bowl, and sprinkle with grated cheese (parmesan or pecorino are good, but I think regular taste is fine too).
bestselling novel PS please come to Italy Nicky Pellegrino (Achette, $36.99) is a book about food and love, available in bookstores nationwide.
https://www.newsroom.co.nz/readingroom/pellegrinos-winter-warmer-1 Pellegrino Winter Warmer | Newsroom