In Italy artichokes are a big deal. They are beautiful, delicious and full of amazing health benefits and are extremely versatile culinarily-speaking.
Roman cuisine probably gets most of the diva attention for their thistles, and rightly so. They have plenty of culinary uses in Roman cuisine, the most famed being from the Roman Jewish repertoire, carciofi alla giudia (Jewish deep fried artichokes, traditionally served after Yom Kippur but eaten joyously by all when in season). If you are in Florence and love carciofi alla giudia, Club Culinario da Osvaldo in Santa Croce pays them due justice even if outside of Rome. Worth knowing is this artichoke currently experiencing some controversy as Israel’s chief Rabbinate declared the dish non-kosher.
In Florence, artichokes may not have fascinating recipes steeped in deep cultural history like Rome’s, but they are nonetheless present and important to Florentine and Tuscan cuisine. They are commonly found in traditional trattorias quartered, battered and fried with a squeeze of lemon. At home they are made into sughetti (sauces) for pasta, carciofi ritti (upright artichokes doused in lemon, herbs, pancetta and garlic) and are cooked along with a variety of meat dishes, such as involtini (meat-rolls), arrosta in crosta (crusted roast meats), etc. Continue Reading →
Besides just going at it and stuffing your face with these aromatic, umami nuggets of gold- I have a couple ideas for how to use truffles in the kitchen.
Last weekend, I headed over to the truffle festival in San Miniato with Girl in Florence, her hubby-to-be and met up with one of our foodie idols, Emiko Davies. Wow, that’s a lot of name dropping but I must give cred since Emiko and her sommelier master hubby (sounds like a team!) organized a rather decadent day for us and it wouldn’t have been possible without either of them for the truffle-y goods I got my paws on. Continue Reading →
It’s so fun to peruse outdoor markets and I personally love the change of seasons, smelling tasting and exploring the new goodies on the block.
I usually hit up the Sant’Ambrogio market for just about everything. Especially meat from the butchers inside the market and fresh, dirt cheap veggies. It’s also not very touristy thanks to uber-touristy, kitschy Mercato San Lorenzo that keeps Sant’Ambrogio pretty real. I do love San Lorenzo for cheap eats and the foodie oasis within- just not my cup of tea for produce shopping. Although the Sant’Ambrogio market is starting to be inundated with vendors and not farmers, you can still experience a slice of Italian life with a shop through this market. There are some farmers still around (and definitely none at San Lorenzo) and it’s a modest reminder of how Italians live and eat in normal circumstances. Continue Reading →
It sounds a bit strange to say what’s in season in Florence since produce that comes into Florence comes from farms and gardens around Tuscany. I suspect that one market in Florence may differ from a market in the Maremma in southern Tuscany. And since I am here, for simplicity’s sake- we will stick to Florence.
Why is it useful to know what is in season in Florence? Well, if you are traveling in Florence this may help your dining decisions. I’m a huge fan of “when in Rome” and eating what is traditionally around.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I love the seasonal produce culture in Italy. I am lucky enough to be near a food market which reinforces my love for love. Because food is love. Unless we are talking about industrial farming, there is intention and warmth every step of the way from the hands that sow the seeds which yield the colorful bounty, all armed with a variety of nutrients, picked with sweat and tears, that then go on to be carefully crafted by the hardworking chefs and cooks onto our plates and go to nourish our bodies (and senses) to allow us to continue our love affair with this life on earth. I know, a bit dramatic. But to me, the world revolves around food. And while industrial food would like to separate us from that very organic and wholesome experience, there are still some little pockets where food still makes its world go round. I imagine industrial food like this virus, coming after all of us, consuming us community by community. It has arrived in Italy, but ironically in Italy its claws are taking the longest to clench into. I think that ancient food cultures are dying making room for the modern diet. While new cultures are fighting tooth and nail to create their own gastronomic identity.
Well, in the little pocket where I do my shopping for a few moments I feel as if I live in a wrinkle of time. Where food culture is still strong and seasonal produce is still abundant, cheap, bright and delight all 5 senses. I get to live in the small nook of true and whole food culture and I am reminded of all the things I must try to bring home with me should I ever return for good.
I lead food tours in Florence and one of my guests asked me what my favorite things about living in Italy was. And I told them it was the market I had just toured them through. Sometimes my life is a Seinfeld episode living in Florence, chewed up and spit out on a daily basis (example recently I was walking through the streets giggling with a girlfriend and a boy my age snarls and barks “tourist, go home!” at me. Neat.) But all of that washes away at the market. The aspirated Tuscan hoots and hollers, flowers and vintage dresses get me every time.
I wanted to share with my readers of few of the gems I recently noticed in season at my local market in Florence.
I love how there are a few different varieties of eggplant (aubergine for the silly brits) in abundance at this time! Perfect to grill and drill with Tuscan olive oil:)
Heirloom, or in Italian Otello tomatoes, are expensive but totally worth it. They have a thick skin (like me!) and a umami rich flesh. Perfect for making a caprese salad. I recently made a tomato basil caprese using stracciatella cheese which is like burrata cheese “let loose” which is basically one of the most amazing things in this world.
These things are crunchy, bell peppery peppers that almost have no flavor other than that fresh spray of bell pepper but they are really good as a crostini topper with diced tomatoes (like Otello!), olive oil and drizzled with a thick balsamic.
I have never seen this stuff before in my life but apparently it’s called saltwort, or Russian thistle and it’s a type of succulent shrub. Mmmmm, da-licious– right? I’ve seen it prepared as like a side of spinach or used as a base to mix in with fresh pasta. Agretti Spaghetti, please!
Spring asparagus is coming to an end shortly, but when it was in full spring I took the opportunity to make a risotto with it. I really love using french sorrel which I used to find in shops back home but I guess in Italy getting french herbs may be a touchy topic. Oh and can’t forget cucumbers which have been rocking my salads and sandwiches.
Okay, so there is a fungi guy (teehee) at the market and funny enough, he told me these came from the Veneto (which is where Venice is). Yes, not all the produce at the market is from Tuscany but I actually like that other regional goodies are brought in from time to time- ESPECIALLY the guy from Naples who brings Neapolitan bread, cheeses, sun-dried San Marzano tomatoes, olives so huge and juicy you’ll cry and other Neapolitan specialties.
This reminds me of summer back home since summer in Seattle is actually mostly like spring and they tend to stay late into early summer months. This year I’d like to make a cherry crostata or cherry jam with these studs! Stay tuned:)
According to my main fruit and veg man, these are the 1st Italian apricots of the season and come from Basilicata. I wonder if those of you reading know what that means and it is basically one of the Southern regions in Italy known mostly for the UNESCO wonder of Matera and the region itself I hear musing over its beauty but aside from Matera, most that remains is a agricultural sector. And Aglianico wine. People from Basilicata are called “Lucano” and I always thought that was cool.