Mighty rich flavors for much less money: These global dishes hail from humble but inspired kitchens.
Translated literally, cucina povera means "poor kitchen," but it really refers to the frugal genius of poor Italian cooks who made the most of gardens, forests, oceans, and backyard coops. Anything abundant and affordable became the backbone of a dish; also anything left over, as with the use of bread in salads and soups, or breadcrumbs with pastas. The approach isn't unique to Italy, of course: Every culture has beloved dishes with roots in the flavors of necessity. Here, some global recipes inspired by the original "fresh and local" frugal cooks.
This hearty peasant stew from Béarn traditionally contained whatever seasonal vegetables were growing in the region. In would go cabbage, beans, potatoes, and turnips—all of which happen to be dirt-cheap in our country. If, like a French rural household might, you can get your hands on a bit of preserved goose, use that instead of pork.
Humble leftover bread is transformed into a crunchy-savory garnish. Tuscan kale, abundant in its namesake region, shows up more and more in American markets and stands out for its deep flavor and easy-to-work-with flat leaves; you can use regular curly kale, too.
Chinese immigrants brought congee—savory rice porridge—to the Philippines, where it was given a new name and adapted to suit the tastes of Spanish colonizers. The golden color comes from saffron (affordable when purchased in those tiny envelopes), whose earthy essence blends well with the Southeast Asian flavors of ginger and fish sauce. Rice, chicken, and chicken broth are the other main ingredients, all budget-friendly components.
Skillet-fried sardines are standard fare for fishermen in Portugal, where the plentiful beauties are often served with boiled potatoes and lemony-dressed salad greens. Relatively inexpensive, sardines are gorgeous fish to try—as well as a sustainable and nutritional standout.
Beef shank, which imbues a broth with rich, meaty essence, is one of those underappreciated—and fairly priced—cuts of meat. Shop at an Asian market for Sichuan peppercorns, black bean sauce, and chile sauce. You won't use much of any, but they're crucial to the flavor and they'll keep in the pantry or fridge practically forever.