Literally translated as « cooked bread, » this dish has been nourishing farmers and families for generations. We share with our WWOOF community a traditional Italian recipe that can come from any garden, anywhere. With the chill of the autumn season upon us, it warms the heart as much as the belly.
« Back in the day, the tables were much smaller, and low to the ground. There were stools instead of chairs, and everyone would gather around one huge, heaping dish to eat, sharing the food one at a time. That’s how our parents, grandparents and great grandparents ate. First thing in the morning, about 5 am before starting the day’s work, then again at night when it was dark; after, they went straight to bed they were so tired. In those days you didn’t stop work for lunch. Up with the sun and to bed with the chickens, as we say! »
Michele, an Italian farmer and his wife, Maria, tell me about how it was to eat pancotto invernale ‘back in the day’ when their ancestors, also farmers, made heaping pots of warm stews to feed all the workers and the family. Today, they walk me through their garden to show me what seasonal vegetables are in this classic family recipe.
In fact, all the ingredients can come from the farm. For this dish, to feed 4 people we collected:
- collard greens (one kilo)
- chicory (one kilo)
- arugula (one kilo)
- catalogna, another type of chicory (one kilo)
- fennel (2)
- potatoes (1 kilo)
- onions (3)
- garlic (3 cloves)
- your day old, hardened bread
Next was the preparation. We cleaned the dirt off the leafy greens, peeled the potatoes and cut onions and chicory. Crushed the garlic in big chunks and set a huge pot of water to boil. Once the water is bubbling up, throw in the potatoes (diced in thick chunks) first, then after a few minutes, the onions, chicory and garlic. Once they have all started to soften, begin adding in your greens. Let everything simmer in the pot until tender and soft.
When the vegetables are cooked through, there’s the last part: toss in the pieces of bread, but leave them only for a moment! Just long enough to sop up a little of the juice and and steam from the stew.
Now, the serving method. Scoop the bread pieces from the pot into the dishes. Then add your stew of veggies on top. Garnish with olive oil and peperoncino (for those who want a lil’ extra spice) and serve.
As we gather together, ready to eat, I look around the old farm house dinning room. The table may be a bit bigger now. The chairs a bit taller. But the pancotto pugliese is timeless: hearty and farm fresh. We invite you to try it for yourself―dig in! And be sure to pour yourself a glass of « medicina » or red wine for good health. Buon apetito!