Feb 8, 2013

4 Old-School Italian Food Austerity Measures

Italian preserving techniques

As budgets and banks around the world crashed over the past few years there has been a call for the dreaded “austerity” measures. In Italy media articles documented the need to go back to war-time eating, “food austerity” as they were calling it. Gourmet chefs embraced the recommendation, showing off menus that used all parts of a pig, or calling up old-time recipes and putting a modern twist on them.The Repubblica even published a roundup of “nearly forgotten dishes.” A 2012 report by the Italian Bureau of Statistics found that over one out of three families in recession-hit Italy cut their spending on food last year.

“Old recipes are a richness that Italy boasts, that were perfected during periods of poverty and are a way to come through the crisis eating well,” said Carlo Petrini, the head of the slow food movement, which campaigns for traditional, sustainable foods. (from the Guardian)

I realize how much of my food habits and recipes, handed down from my grandparents and parents who immigrated here, have the austerity idea throughout. What we eat and when we eat it has just as much to do with Italian flavours as it has to do with making do. Yes, it stems form the poverty of years past, but it’s not entirely cucina povera (that is dishes that used ingredients common to the poor areas of Italy) as it is making the most use of your food and cutting out the waste.

“While the few who can afford to do it still enjoy spending at the table, many Italians might be forced to go back to the Mediterranean diet that their parents and grandparents were relieved to abandon during the decades of economic growth, as a mark of poverty and backwardness.” (via Huffington Post)

Now granted, I LOVE sushi and could/would eat it weekly if it made sense for my budget. In Canada, I don’t necessarily invoke drastic “austerity” measures around my food, but that may be because I find that it is already part of the food I love. While my grandparents may have cooked this way out of necessity, it is now my comfort food.

Here’s 4 old-school Italian food austerity measures I love:

1. Dried breads. I haven’t covered the recipes for this yet on this blog, but I will one day. We make a few types of bread that are baked traditionally, then split in two and allowed to dry in the oven on low heat. Often called Friselle (Aurora Importing has a great explaination of them), you can use them to soak up the olive oil/tomato juice goodness in salads, or wet them with water to have with cheeses and salumi. I like them just fine dry too. When we wet them, we call them “pane lavato” which literally translated means “washed bread.”

2. Preserving vegetables. If you’ve been hanging around this blog, you know that tomatoes are a regular late summer activity for us. They need to be cleaned, peeled and jarred so we can have our Italian summer flavours in the middle of winter. I rely on these jars of tomatoes for so many meals, I don’t know what I’d do without them. Jarring eggplant, olives, drying hot peppers and more – it not only saves me money from buying fresh, but I prefer the tastes of the preserves rather than the bland hot-house tomatoes any day.

3. Salumi (that is the plural of all types of soppresatta, capacoli, sausages). When pork meat is plentiful and affordable, we have multiple ways of preserving it. Now, I don’t mind pork chops or pork tenderloin every once and a while in my meals, but while my grandparents preserved meat so it was available year-round, I actually prefer my pork this way.

4. Leftovers. Use what you have! I’m the queen of leftovers – I love figuring out a way of combining what we have with a new meal. Left over rapini from last night’s dinner? That’s today’s frittata. Ribollita, soup made from leftovers and stale bread, is also common. I know I have some friends that won’t eat anything leftover or will only consider it the next day. But look, the food is cooked, it’s still good and there’s not point in wasting it. I get stressed over food wasting away in the fridge and I won’t let it happen!

Those are just a few of my food “austerity measures” but I’m sure there are lots of Nonni out there with a few more ideas. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the comments!


Print Friendly


  • What a wonderful article. Our grand-parents would have scoffed at labels like “la cucina povera” etc…which have now become kind of trendy and hip. To them it was food of convenience, derived from whatever was at hand at the time. Your article does a wonderful job of connecting the old generation recipes to the new generation of Italians and realziing that despite it’s modest origins, those same recipes are now ingrained in our traditon.

    One of my personal favorites is panzannella. Panzanella is a bread salad with Tuscan origins but my father who is from Abruzzo made it daily in the summer and spring-time. It’s made with stale bread, soaked in water, and seaoned it with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and olive oil. Today you can find it in any high-end Italian restaurant but back in the day it was a quick and easy means for sustenance and also a good reason not to throw out that bread that became too hard and stale. Throwing it out without making use of it would have been a sin, “a peccato.”. Whether served at the table in old post-war Italy, or in the trendy Italian bistro around the corner does not matter. It’s a delicious dish and a part of our Italian tradition.

    • Thanks so much. It’s true I’ve seen panzannella recipes on many sites recently, it’s a very “in” dish, but an old favourite.

  • Left over rapini, never in my house. But we love left over pasta.

    Only if you have time.

    Olive oil chopped garlic and peperoncini

    Allow to sizzle hot pan, add pasta toss well till all coated nicely. Add a tablespoon on butter, Keep tossing add handfull of parma, Place lid alllow to sit a bit on burner, till maybe stuck to pan a bit (even better). Then let sit a bit off pan, Then eat with lots of wine.

    My mother (90 yrs old) refuses to enjoy this, looks to messy. Eaten up she says in her dilect.

    • Oh yes, pasta crisped up in a frying pan…a favourite. You’re making me crave it. My Nonno used to cook like this all the time, but, like your mother, had one exception: he wouldn’t eat potato skins. When he was poor in Italy he didn’t have to eat them, and he wouldn’t here either. :)

  • This is a wonderful article!!! It seems that we are all forgetting about what our nonna’s taught us about wasting nothing. Thank you for the reminder :)

  • […] as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years […]

Leave a comment

Tomato-growing, family-surrounded, big life and big laughs girl sorting out an Italian-Canadian life. Recipes are from the heart and the family vault. Learn more about this blog...

Sign up for updates from An Italian-Canada Life blog

Connect with me

Link to my Facebook Page
Recommend this page!
Link to my Pinterest Page
Link to my Rss Page
Link to my Twitter Page

My Instagr.am Gallery

Follow me on Twitter

Search the blog

© Laura D'Amelio and An Italian-Canadian Life, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laura D'Amelio and An Italian-Canadian Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For permissions, please fill in the form on the contact page.