When I received a copy of Cucina Povera, a new cookbook by Pamela Sheldon Johns, I couldn't stop turning the pages. Not because it has glossy pages with slick copy - it doesn't. I was drawn to it because of the rustic, matte feel of the paper, the jagged, deckle edges of each page and most of all, the beautiful photos, recipes and stories of the people whose very lives and traditions are outlined in this book.
For these people, cucina povera (peasant cooking) was a necessity. And even though most of us can afford to indulge in small culinary luxuries nowadays, that doesn't mean we shouldn't respect the bounty that's available or waste food either. Eating what's in season, making simple dishes from the freshest ingredients, and preserving foods for the lean days of winter are lessons we can all benefit from in order to live healthier lives and preserve resources.
Cucina Povera contains delicious recipes - from soups to pastas, meats and vegetables to desserts like this cookie called "sfratti," plural of the word "sfratto," which means eviction. These cookies are one of the old recipes from Pitigliano, a Tuscan town that once housed a large Jewish population. Sadly, many of the Jews were forced to flee during World War II, following Mussolini's racial laws. This recipe is a traditional Rosh Hashanah treat from Pitigliano's Jewish heritage.
Sfratti may be considered "cucina povera" but there's no feeling of deprivation once you've tried these. Here's a visual guide on how to make them, followed by the recipe.
After you've madethe filling, spread it out on the rolled-out dough.
Roll the dough over the filling.
Continue rolling until you have something that looks like a large cigar. The shape is meant to evoke the batons that officials used to bang on the doors of Jews to evict them.
Brush with beaten egg yolk and bake.
Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.
Betcha' can't eat just one.
From Pamela Sheldon Johns' "Cucina Povera"
Printable Recipe Here
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- pinch of slat
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2/3 cup sweet white wine
- 1 cup honey
- 4 cups walnuts, chopped
- 2 tsps. grated orange zest
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 egg yolk, beaten
- For the pastry: In a large bowl, combine, the flour, sugar and salt. Stir with a whisk to blend. Stir in the olive oil and wine to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- For the filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the honey over medium heat. Add the walnuts, orange zest, cinnamon and cloves, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
- Divide the chilled dough into 8 pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll a piece of dough into a 4 x 10-inch rectangle. Spoon 1/2 cup of the filling along the center of the length of the dough and roll it up. Place on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk, and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Transfer the pastries from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. To serve, cut each pastry into 1-inch thick slices and dust with confectioner's sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Makes about 6 dozen slices