With the current trends leaning more toward cleaner living and simplifying diets, peasant foods are expected to see a resurgence this year.
Modern Peasant Fare
Peasant fare has been elevated in recent years, according to Chicago-based market research firm Technomic. Peasant foods range from plant-based and healthful dishes to hearty comfort foods that are minimally processed, nutritious and affordable. Some ingredients mirror those from the Mediterranean diet, incorporating seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and fish. On the other end of the spectrum, peasant comfort food simulates dishes from Medieval times, with slow-roasted or braised meat mixed with vegetables in hearty stews and soup.
Concept Close-Up: Peasant
Chris Alberti and his wife, Ellen, opened Peasant, a 47-seat restaurant in Waitsfiled, Vt., in August 2012. The former trader for the New York Stock Exchange moved to Vermont after 9/11, encouraged by his friends and family. “I always loved to cook, and people said I should open a restaurant,” he says. “So, at age 50, I did just that!” Alberti discusses his eatery’s peasant food focus and what this food entails.
Q: How do you define peasant food?
A: These are dishes with minimal ingredients and accoutrements. We don’t put 30 elements in an item. It is comfort food, and ours varies between French and Italian country food. The lines are very blurred. We’ll also throw a different style in there, such as a stew or braised meat. Our bouillabaisse sauce is pork based and very simple, with just tomato and red onion that are immersion blended. Pork with the fat taken out is added afterward. We cook and reduce this for two hours, then toss it with penne and cream.
Q: What is the main equipment used in preparing these dishes?
A: I do it all with six burners and a convection oven. We also use induction burners for cooking vegetables and steam tables for holding items made in advance, like our ragus. But anything made à la minute is prepared on the burners and/or in the oven.
Q: What are your mainstay menu items?
A: There are a few things that are always on the menu and never change, like cassoulet and meatballs. We also keep stews, ragus and chicken liver pate available. One popular dish is our salmon, which is very simply seared in oil with the flesh down. It goes in the oven for roasting and is served with feta, red onion and spinach, then topped with a maple syrup and balsamic vinegar reduction. We are about to add duck breast confits back on the menu.
Popular European Peasant Dishes
- Arroz con pollo (Spain): browned chicken cooked with tomatoes, rice, onions and garlic
- Ratatouille (France): stew made with eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers and tomatoes
- Fasolada (Greece): soup with white beans, carrots, onion, celery and tomato puree
- Arroz de tomate (Portugal): a simple tomato and rice dish simmered with onions and chicken stock
- Gołąbki (Poland): stuffed cabbage rolls with ground pork and beef, along with rice, onion and tomato soup
- Goulash (Hungary): stew of ground beef, green bell peppers, tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta and cheddar
- Houskove Knedliky (Czech Republic): simple bread dumplings served as a side to meat and gravy
- Ribollita (Italy): vegetable soup layered with bread and cooked in a skillet