So much good food from so many cultures is the result of poor folks doing the best they can with what they have at hand. The Italians call it “cucina povera,” or the poor kitchen.
The Italians made a sauce from tomatoes fresh from the garden that today has become to be one of the most popular sauces ever. All over Europe, a loaf of bread, often baked in a communal oven, along with a hunk of local cheese could keep a poor family going for a long time. If times were good, a little butter might also be in the pantry too.
Classic Southern food is a great example of this same mindset: collard greens, beans, and peas come from the garden, and in the old days, there was always someone in the county who had a mill to grind corn into flour or grits making for cornbread on the table every single day.
French pot au feu and cassslutte come to mind as well, but perhaps the best example is French onion soup. When there is no stew meat to be had, a few onions and a leftover bone to make stock from can be turned into a wonderful, hearty soup. French onion soup dates from medieval times, but the modern version seems to have first been made in the mid-19th century.
It does take a while to make it properly, but the basic recipe is pretty simple: browned onions and a good beef stock served with a sliced baguette and gruyere cheese. On a chilly fall day, there is just nothing better.
Julian Brunt’s French onion soup
- A good splash of good olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 thinly sliced onions
- 3-4 cloves minced garlic
- ½ cup or so of port wine
- 4 cups beef broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- French baguette, sliced
- Gruyere cheese
Cook the onions in oil and butter until well browned (30 to 40 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half, add the stock, season, and simmer for about an hour. Serve in individual bowls, with a slice of bread floating on the top with a slice of cheese. Place the bowls in the broiler until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.