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Pope Francis' humble lifestyle extends to kitchen

7:37 AM, Mar 16, 2013   |    comments
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 16: Newly elected Pope Francis holds his first audience with journalists and media inside the Paul VI hall on March 16, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. The pope thanked the media for their coverage during the historic transition of the papacy and explained his vision of the future for the Catholic Church. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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(USA TODAY) -- Baked skinless chicken, salad, fruit and a glass of simple wine is certainly not food fit for a king. But it is a meal fit for a pope.

Pope Francis is becoming well known for his simple tastes: As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he carried his own bags when traveling, preferred public transportation to chauffeur-driven limousines, and, in one of his first acts as pope, he stopped by the hotel where he stayed before the conclave that elected him to settle his bill himself.

His humble lifestyle extends to the kitchen, a stark contrast with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who before becoming pope relished feasting on fettuccine with shrimp, zucchini and saffron.

Many of the men favored to become pope going into the conclave also had fancier tastes. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, an Italian, hosted an elaborate vegetarian dinner to celebrate Benedict's 60th anniversary as a priest in 2011, featuring fresh-picked fare from the area near Venice, including chicory, white asparagus, peas and cherries.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan has waxed poetic about the seductive charms of food in the Italian capital, enthusiastically describing meals of fettuccine Bolognese, lamb cutlet, spinach and peppers, with Sicilian cannoli and homemade tiramisu as his favorite choices for dessert.

The new pontiff's preferences are far less elaborate. Staff at La Venerina and Il Passetto di Borgo, the two most popular restaurants for cardinals and bishops in the Borgo Pio, the neighborhood adjacent to the Vatican City to the east, could not recall ever serving Cardinal Bergoglio at their tables.

Jesuit traditions favor simple cuisine - one of the rules of the order is for diners to fill up on bread because it avoids the "disorder" that comes from being "tempted by other foods" - something the new pope has apparently taken to heart.

That does not mean he does not enjoy an occasional luxury, at least in relative terms. As a cardinal, he admitted enjoying an occasional "Bagna Cauda" prepared by nuns. "Bagna Cauda" - a name in the Piedmont dialect spoken by his parents whose families hailed from the region that includes the northern Italian city of Turin - is a classical farmer's dish that requires dipping roasted carrots, celery, artichokes, cauliflower and onions into a piping hot broth made from garlic, olive oil and butter, then serving the dish in a terra cotta bowl with a candle underneath.

After being selected as pope and making his appearance to the massive crowd in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, Francis ate dinner with the College of Cardinals. The menu was a simple pasta dish that may have seemed extravagant by the new pontiff's standards.

According to Dolan, the cardinals toasted their new leader, who returned the gesture by standing and offering a toast to the cardinals. "May God forgive you," he joked to them.

USA Today

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