Wealthy cook with Humble ingredients

La cucina povera. Often translated as “the food of the poor,” the term seems unlikely to make mouths water or inspire serious foodies to blow their vacation budget on a cooking course. But in and around the city of Lecce, deep in Italy’s heel, a crop of culinary schools and solo cooking teachers is encouraging travelers to embrace this traditionally marginalized food and to master the recipes of the extremely humble (and remarkably resourceful) local fare, which lies far at the other end of the culinary spectrum from haute cuisine. Prepared with local produce, sundry leftovers and pastas, these unembellished peasant and working-class dishes are taking center stage. As a result, Lecce, long cherished for its beautifully chiseled Baroque and Renaissance churches, is now drawing food-obsessed travelers, including some noted chefs and restaurateurs, eager to transform fava beans, turnip greens, broccoli rabe, chickpeas and bread crumbs into unexpectedly flavorful dishes. “The former aristocracy demanded that the poor workers hand over the lion’s share of their toil,” said Silvestro Silvestori, who in 2003 founded the Awaiting Table Cookery School in Lecce, a pioneering program that has imparted the secrets of boiled chicory, pickled hyacinth bulbs and other local bounty to more than 2,000 guests who have attended its weeklong cooking courses. “What the wealthy didn’t care about were the legumes and weeds, and that’s where our kitchen begins.”

Read more