Valerio Muscella for NPR
SAN CASCIANO DEI BAGNI, Italy — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and its decision to reduce natural gas exports to Europe — has sent energy prices and utility bills soaring. Rising costs have forced many households to get creative to save money.
In this Tuscan town, some chefs have rediscovered the energy-efficient cooking box, a tool their grandparents used during the Second World War. An enterprising nonprofit here is producing useful — and stylish — insulated cans that use less gas than traditional Italian cooking.
Sheep graze on the steep hilltop pasture that surrounds this village. The animals are raised for meat, as their wool is of poor quality. But Filo & Fibra, a nonprofit cooperative, has found a way to use sheared wool.
Valerio Muscella for NPR
Gloria Lucchesi, co-founder of Filo & Fibra – which means “yarn and yarn” – invited NPR to her big house on the outskirts of town to demonstrate one of the cooking boxes it made.
When Lucchesi pulled steaming hot metal pots out of some odd-looking boxes, she said she found a book filled with tips on saving energy and cooking in times of scarcity. . The book, published in 1941, belonged to her grandmother.
“My grandmother’s pamphlet describes what it calls a cooking box made of wood and lined with straw,” she said. “We realized that instead of straw, we could use local wool.”
Filo & Fibra is producing two types of insulated boxes: one made from wood, the other from felt. Some have a stylish cotton design pattern on the outside. Each has a thick inner lining made from local wool.
The boxes are virtual portable ovens that use the convection properties of wool as a means of slow cooking.
You put your ingredients in a normal pot and put it on the stove, Lucchesi says.
“You can boil it for about 10 or 20 minutes, depending on the ingredients. Then you put the hot pot inside the insulated container and the cooking process continues slowly for several hours. It’s amazing! ” she speaks.
We ate in Lucchesi’s large kitchen and enjoyed delicious portions of lentils, beans and potatoes.
Filo & Fibra predicts that a family using a cooking box 20 to 30 hours a month will save up to $52 a year on gas bills.
But there could be an even bigger advantage, said Lucchesi’s husband, Francesco Asso, who said. teach international economics at the University of Palermo. These boxes, he says, give home cooks much more freedom to work or do other things while away from home, since they don’t have to be glued to their stovetop.
“We experimented with friends and family, cooking the same things like vegetables or beans, using gas and using a cooking box,” Asso says. “And the judgment is always on behalf of the cooking box for better quality.”
A new convert to the cooking box is Tiziana Tacchi – a famous chef in the nearby town of Chiusi.
When she first tried the cooking box last June, she said she was skeptical.
“But on the second try, I was convinced,” Tacchi said. “I already love it.”
It takes longer to cook than an induction hob, but Tacchi says the results are amazing. The cooking box surrounds the entire pot with a uniform heat source instead of a single flame underneath.
“Not out of breath,” she said. “And the nutritional properties of the food are sealed.”
Tacchi lifted the lid of a large steaming pot. She prepared it in the morning, left it for three hours and now it’s ready to serve. She takes great pride in the result: a Tuscan specialty – a sauce made with local produce – a particularly pleasant-tasting garlic that is the basis of Salsa all’aglion.
Tacchi owns two cooking boxes and says she will buy more.
“They have completely changed my life! This is a turning point – in terms of quality, time saving and energy saving,” she said.
The day ends at another restaurant in a rustic setting: Hosteria di Villalba — in the middle of a vast forest between the regions of Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria.
NPR has come to taste the chef’s work Adio ProvenceFirst experience of using cooking box. He prepares a classic Tuscan dish, Chianti beef stew until tender, with lots of black pepper – hence the name, peposopepper.
Typically, a peposo will stay on the stovetop for three hours. With the cooking box, Provvedi said he let the ingredients cook slowly for four hours.
He wasn’t sure if the timing was right.
The chef and a waiter serve steamed dishes consisting of tender kebabs.
The unanimous verdict is “ottimo, perfetto, morbidissimo” – excellent, perfect, very tender.
Fila & Fibra’s cooking box was introduced at shop of flavorsorganized by an association called Slow Food, in Turin in September.
The target market is families interested in food quality and energy savings, but some restaurants have also started placing orders. Lucchesi says it has sold about 100 so far, with a wooden box costing upwards of $250.
But, as Lucchesi says, that’s about the same price as a decent microwave in Italy.