Being from a Tuscan family, it never amazes me how far Italians will go to maintain traditions or procure the right ingredients for family recipes.
There is a long history of food appreciation and gourmet cooking on both sides of my family. When I was a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s, the only espresso coffee house was Caffe Trieste on Grant Avenue in North Beach (where I experienced my first heavenly cappuccino). We did not see espresso shops on every corner (like Starbucks) or trendy Italian restaurants that featured the regional foods of Italy. In an effort to maintain traditions and have authentic ingredients, my parents roasted their own coffee beans in a small, round tin roaster with a handle turned by hand over an alcohol-fueled can. The dark-roasted coffee beans were ground in an old, hand-cranked coffee grinder (I was responsible for this task). When we went on vacation, the first thing to be packed was an old (manual) espresso coffee maker and a small electric burner.
In the pre-Alice Waters California, Italian-American families grew their own produce in their back yards (or on window sills and terraces if they lived in apartments).
I challenge you to come up with some low cost, healthy and delicious recipes using leftovers and inexpensive ingredients – just like the Italians do. As you may know, Italians throw nothing away and utilize every part of the animals they consume (think of head cheese or pickled pigs feet)! This is true now more than ever.
Some of my favorite meals as a child resulted from my father or mother using kitchen leftovers. Most people know about the delicious Tuscan soups (like ribollita or pancotto) made utilizing breads – usually stale breads. Have you heard of polpette (meatballs made from leftovers – sometimes coated and fried) or fresh pasta ravioli with stuffing made from leftover fish or meat? Have you heard of soups or pasta sauces made with fish bones and fish heads or those flavored with parmesan crust?