Cook the Book: The Southern Italian Table

"The notion of cucicna povera, or poor cooking, carries through Southern Italian cooking today."

20091019thesouthernitaliantable.jpgA few years ago, my fiancé and I went on a trip to Italy. It was no mere European vacation—we spent a year working two jobs to save enough to live in Italy for as long as possible. Finally, when we reached our desired sum, we gave our landlord notice, got rid of basically every single thing we owned, and packed our remaining belongings into two oversize backpacks that were too heavy for us to even carry.

Upon arriving at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, we quickly realized that our Italian phrasebook—and the three Italian language classes that I had taken—weren't going to do us any good. Language barrier aside, I was excited to be in Italy but more specifically to eat in Italy.

Our first meal was a sad affair that involved lots of pointing and gesturing for a few mediocre slices of room temperature pizza. The next morning we ventured into a little sit-down breakfast place (rookie mistake) and ate a breakfast of coffee and pastries that set us back about 40 euros. What was going on? Where was all this amazing Italian food that I had been hearing about?

It was only after making our way down to Sicily did the real Italian-eating experience begin. From the markets to the butcher shops to countless dinners at new friends' houses, we ate better than we'd ever eaten before. The regions of Southern Italy have a culinary identity all their own—vegetable and seafood heavy with influences ranging from North Africa to Spain and Greece. You won't find many butter-drenched stuffed pastas in Arthur Schwartz's new The Southern Italian Table. Instead, this is olive oil territory.

Pastas from Southern Italy are traditionally served with fresh seasonal vegetables and olive oil instead of gobs of pricey dairy products. The notion of cucicna povera, or poor cooking, carries through Southern Italian cooking today. The food is made of whatever's cheap, plentiful, and in season. It doesn't get too much cheaper than the Sicilian classic, pasta with lentils, or acquacotta, which is just day-old bread and chickpeas.

Schwartz has brought together classic dishes from Campania, Pulgia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily in The Southern Italian Table and everyday this week we are going to be sharing them with you. Here's just a taste of what's going to be on this weeks menu: Pasta with Lentils from Sicily, Pizza Rustica from Campania and Eggs in Purgatory, a simple dish of eggs cooked in tomato sauce that is popular throughout the South of Italy.

Win 'The Southern Italian Table'

Thanks to the generosity of the folks over at Ten Speed Press, we are giving away five (5) copies of The Southern Italian Table this week. All you have to do is tell us about your favorite cucina povera, or cheap Italian recipe, in the comments section below.

Five (5) people will be chosen at random among the eligible comments below. We're sorry, but entry is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Comments will close Monday, October 5 at noon ET. The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.