Cooking Class with Pamela Sheldon Johns author of "Cucina Povera"

Last week on a beautiful September evening my friends and I headed into the city to attend a private cooking class with Pamela Sheldon Johns, well known cooking instructor and author of 16 cookbooks. We couldn’t ask for better weather, the sky was bright blue and the views of the city were absolutely gorgeous from the 52nd floor condo we were in.

It was a small intimate group of ten lively women and Pamela made us all feel welcome the minute we arrived, popping open bottles of Prosecco as we were getting to know each other.

Our menu for the night was coming straight out of Pamela’s new cookbook, Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking. Simple and delicious food born from hard times when nothing was ever wasted and leftovers were recreated over again.

In the beginning of the book you’ll read a collection of stories from neighbors and locals that Pamela interviewed throughout her 20 years living in Tuscany, those who have experienced first hand the “poor kitchen” before, during, and just after World War II. The book has more than 60 dishes that bring to life the Cucina Povera philosophy focusing on making great food out of very little using simple quality ingredients.

Our first appetizer was Pinzimonio, quite simply, vegetables dipped in seasoned olive oil fresh pressed straight from Pamela’s Tuscan farm.

Next up was Frittura Mista di Verdure, fried flowers and vegetables. A batter is made from flour, eggs and prosecco, the vegetables are then dipped and fried, sort of like tempura, light and crispy. The favorite among all was the fried sage leaves!

Another favorite was Pan’ Santo or holy bread, a crostini topped with sauteed mixed greens “anointed” with olive oil.

Ribollita, a classic Tuscan vegetable-bread soup made with beans, greens, an assortment of vegetables, herbs and day old bread. Ribollita was a dish were the leftovers got extended and recreated into other dishes, for instance, day 1, it was a vegetable soup, day 2, a bread soup, day 3, a baked bread soup, and finally on day 4, it became a recooked vegetable stew.

This is a hearty dish especially when the bread is layered in between, it will fill your stomach in no time, a little goes along way!

Other dishes Pamela made were Stewed Beef braised with a hearty red wine served over Polenta, Roasted Tomatoes with Beans and Onions, and for dessert, warm Baked Apples. This is humble comfort food at it’s finest!

As night fell the city glowed with all the lights, from our balcony we could even see the fireworks coming from Navy Pier. Beautiful, but a little scary if you don’t like heights! ( I stayed close to the door).

Thank you Pamela for a very memorable night. I felt like I was invited over to a friends house for dinner.

The next day I was invited to a blogger event for Cucina Povera taken place at the beautiful and huge Whole Foods in Schaumburg, Il. What a great space they have for cooking demos and classes.

Of course Pamela was again behind the stove cooking up her Farmyard Crostini, a big pot of Farro Soup and a Panzanella Salad with Baked Figs for dessert. I need to stop eating for a week… I’ll start tomarrow!

Cucina Povera will be released on Sept 13, but I have a signed copy ready to be shipped out to one of my readers, just leave a comment on my blog from now until Thursday midnight and I will announce the winner on Friday, Sept 9th.

Buon Appetito!

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  1. This is a beautiful lady.That is exactly how I would expect Italian cook to look like.I have a friend famous lady here who has a small bistro in Wellington which is always booked out.She cooks fantastic:))What a great way to spend a day:)

  2. Oh wow, please enter me in your giveaway I would LOVE to win, thankyou. What an awesome time you had, the food looks delicious and the view – gorgeous.

  3. WOW! It may be food for lean times, but it looks superbly delicious! If I don’t win a copy, I’ll HAVE to buy one.

  4. For the past year I have discovered many simple and flavourful Italian dishes that follow these philosophies; use what you have and let nothing go to waste.What a fin filled few days you have had!

  5. Thanks for letting me feast through your beautifully blogged gastronomic events with Pamela. One day we hope to get her to visit us in western Wisconsin on one of her US book tours. Perhaps she will even create her menu after visiting our garden! Buon appetito.

  6. Wow, sounds like some great cooking classes! Especially that one in the condo in the city – what a view! My husband’s grandmother was Sicilian and cooked like that. I wish I had the chance to learn from her.

  7. Wow, looks like fun cooking classes, especially the one in the city with that view! My husband’s grandmother was Sicilian and cooked like that. I wish I had the chance to learn from her.

  8. What a lovely event for you and you and your friends.I love the complete and utter simplicity of Tuscan food,and yet still very complex in flavors.Ribollita is one of our favorite colder weather meals(actually sounds good for this week given our fall like temperatures)thanks for sharing.

  9. Great photos! What a fun class. That ribbolita looks so good…..lots of yummy comfort foods & great pic of you and Pamela.

  10. What a wonderful experience! I live precariously through you——-thank you fro sharing such a lovely event!

  11. Oh my. Ms. Sheldon Johns cooks like my mother did. The neighbor kids were always asking her for “panznilla” which was French bread with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. I loved her fried cauliflower and zucchini flowers. Her beef stew was wonderful as was the fried chicken dipped in egg and flour.

  12. Marie – This is Italian cooking at its best – simple ingredients but fresh and made into a loving, delicious creation. So great that you got a chance to meet her and try all these wonderful dishes.

  13. Everything looks so delicious and gorgeous!
    christysapp at hotmail dot com

  14. Fabulous, simple dishes – there really is nothing better. Thank you for sharing.

  15. two cool cooking events…back to back. And all that delicious food. I’m extremely jealous 🙂

  16. I would love to own this cookbook ! I’m an Italian -American whose heritage is very near to her heart. Making authentic Italian food while on a budget is important to me. “Cucina Povera” sounds perfect !!

  17. Diana - says:

    I have recently been cooking very gourmet meals by following others recipes. I enjoy it so much that I feel like I have missed my calling. My friends who I have been cooking for are very impressed so of course I am a very happy women. I enjoy your blog very much. I live in the Chicago area also. Keeping the posts coming please.

  18. You are all so sweet. Proud Italian Cook is a great blog. Let’s talk her into bringing a group over to Tuscany to cook at my farm!
    Buon appetito,
    Pamela Sheldon Johns

  19. I love this – I am fascinated by “Poor cooking.” I note that so many of my grandmother’s dishes were things foraged in her native land. And although she had to adapt to NYC ingredients – she did – but never wasted flavor or ingredients. And I am partial to fried sage leaves! The views of Chicago gave my computer-weary eyes a huge smile!

  20. Look at all those vegetables — that’s what makes Italian cooking molto bene!

  21. Marie, attending these cooking classes must have been so much fun! Pamela sounds like a wonderful person and her apartment has such fabulous!

    I know every region in Italy has their versions of “Cucina Povera.” The magic that an Italian mother can do with a few beans and some day old bread and olive oil pressed from their own olives always amazed me. I learned so many wonderful dishes like these, Calabrian style, from my mother-in-law. I wpould loev to have a chance to win a signed copy of Pamela’s book!

  22. Hi Marie – thanks for the introduction to Pamela. Love the pic of the two of you together. And the views of the skyline of course. Such a neat event.

  23. i love cookbooks almost as much as i love your blog…

  24. Like Claudia, I’m fascinated by “poor cooking,” and I especially love the poor cooking of Italy!

    I also loved the views of Chicago. I grew up not far from there (in IN) and have spent much time in Chicago. I miss it.

  25. Everything looks so beautiful!

  26. Chicago…Italian…whaaaat could be better? I was born in Naples, Italy and really enjoy your blog. Viva Italia! Best to you.

  27. and the farmyard crostini must be delicious!

  28. Lori Moccardi says:

    Recipes look great and the view …wow! Great food, wine and a great group of people=perfect night!

  29. Humble?…. God’s bounty sent down to the earth, beautifully prepared food, healthy and flavorful. I love fresh figs, polenta, olive oil is my fat of choice, these dishes are classics. I only wish I could go to something like this. xo,

  30. Wish I was there! Love your blog!

  31. What a wonderful way to spend the day surrounded by fresh, Itailian simple food. Thank you for the special post that you shared with us, I feel like I was there! I would have been by the door too….

  32. Beautiful food photos. What an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing!

  33. I love when my email tells me you have a post. I have made a number of recipes and we have so enjoyed them. Every time I make one of your recipes I feel as though I have had a private cooking class. Thank you.

  34. I would love to win this cookbook . Her food looks and sounds fantastic and I would love to try her creative vegetable dishes. Plus… my name too is Pamela and there aren’t a lot of us out there.

  35. Everything looks so wonderful and beautiful. Mangia!

  36. Jerzegirl (Debbie) says:

    I think I’ve gained 5 pounds just by looking at the beautiful photos of that beautiful food 🙂

  37. I love your site. Some of the dishes that we now consider classics were born out of situations such as you described. “Blackened redfish” now considered a Louisiana specialty was created because beef was too expensive and poor people had access to all the seafood they could catch. Your food reflects a very different attitude toward cooking than many other popular blogs. Thank you.

  38. What a beautiful day in the city! The food looked inviting and sounds like you had wonderful time with a very talented author and chef! Keep up the good work Marie!

  39. This is what I call Rich Food – food from and to the heart. Love your blog, adore Italian food and would so much like a copy of the book, but since I live in South Africa, will wait till it hits our shores. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and recipes. Psymom

  40. Oh Maria, what a delicious couple of days you had – I am extremely jealous!

  41. I was so inspired by my intro to you and your blog via Pamela , ribollita was dinner last night and it was deliciosa. Of course you know I had to do some substituting as I was determined to be in the Cucina Povera mode so swiss chard was the kale, its ribbing the celery, regular cabbage, whatever potatoes got dug up which being new worked great…and not a sourdough bread but homemade- Canned what remained wo bread of course.:) Grazie for one of our new ‘favorite ‘soups/stews! And I have my fingers crossed that I can win that book!

  42. What an inspiring homage to Cucina Povera you posted! I’m ready to head to the kitchen and begin my early fall feasting!

  43. Love the photo of the two of you and I’m with you on the height I’d love to win this book.

  44. Farro and Figs, two of my favorite foods, will be making the recipes offered here soon, whether I purchase the book or am the lucky winner. I love this site and often send the recipes to my daughters who have visited Italy and are always looking for some new great recipes.

  45. Farro and Figs, two of my favorite foods. Will definitely make the Farro Soup soon now that fall is almost upon us, and Figs, well they’re just ripening on my tree so I’m always baking them or eating them right off the tree…….

  46. Absolutely gorgeous!!
    I am learning so much about lovely and healthy Italian food from your blog!

  47. Isn’t downtown Chicago wonderful! Good story and great looking food!

  48. what a wonderful day!!! I learned to make a version of that soup when I was in Tuscany several years ago…so wonderful!!

    I would LOVE to win a copy of this book!!!

  49. Beautifully done post. Felt like being invited over to dinner with some wonderful friends and a great chef. Apart from the heights (great view though) an ideal evening. Cookbook looks great and I look forward to cooking from it!
    PS please do more with figs, been grilling them most of the summer or eating them with Italian meile!

  50. What fun — but I think I would rather drink the prosecco rather than put it in the batter for those luscious veggies and flowers! (I love those fried sage leaves!) Peasant food is the best — now I have to check out Pamela’s book.

  51. I am positively drooling over this post!!!

  52. Until this blog entry I wasn’t familiar with the Cucina Povera style of cooking… now I am ready to start using it myself! I love your blog… I have it bookmarked and I read it every morning over coffee.

    By the way – I’d love to win the autographed copy to go in my collection of Italian cookbooks!

  53. What a treat it would be to have a copy of this cookbook to share with family and friends!!!

  54. Love Pamela, miss her here in Santa Barbara! Still trying to get to Poggio Etrusco.
    This looked like such a fun event.

  55. Marie I LOVE your blog!! I’m not sure which I LOVE more: the beautiful pictures, or the delicious recipes! You go girl!!

  56. What a wonderful experience, I bet it was awesome! I was just reading about Pamela’s cookbook online today and it sounds awesome!

  57. What a wonderful couple of days! The food had me dreaming of my family and the simple meals we made. And the views were spectacular, what a great evening, food, friends and a view !!
    Susan Nero

  58. This lady cooks excellent foods. Cooking is my passion and i also love to bake delicious food. Every weekend, i can used to baking special dishes for my family.

  59. Pamela’s oil is now available in the U.S. It has just arrived at Olio2go.