Curious Appetite

Seasonal

What’s in season in Florence (Tuscany, Italy Spring 2014)

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.

Graffiti Eggplant

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 tomatoes!

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.

Agretti! Not wheatgrass

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.

Chanterelle mushrooms!!

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.

cherry berries!

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.

That’s all folks! Enjoy:)

In earthly delight,

Curious Appetite

Nettletown

One morning, as I was restlessly slept-in, I was feeling spontaneous and felt compelled to venture out for brunch. I urbanspoon’d “brunch” and found this “Nettletown.” I thought, what a peculiar name. It seems that Nettles have become a culinary trend in the Pacific Northwest, i.e. nettle papparadelle, nettled sausage, nettle gratin. Nettles are medicinal as they are delicious. They are amazing towards combating allergies. And amazing in curing the experimental palate.

I was quite surprised to see this place tucked next to subway in the seemingly convenience strip of Eastlake. I walked in, and was covered by colors, mural-inspired decor, and a counter lined of eccentric sweets. Dark chocolate covered noodle haystacks to mexican chocolate (sliced) coconut bars.  They were delicately arranged and gastronomically full of beauty. And the best part? COST. $1.60 for that chocolatey coconut blissy bar that I enjoyed much with some full-bodied organic coffee that was served in a cute modestly sized Japanese-like styled light blue ceramic mug, and as I waited for my baked truffled sunchoke eggs to arrive.

Menu items seem baked and/or cooked to order (allow 20 minutes for this special): and I was impressed by all of the choices. Simplicity, yet complexity. Traditional, yet experimental. There was something truly special about the vibe inside. It really seemed like a little hole in the wall that no one knew about, and that would only be exposed by Anthony Bourdain. I found that to be completely false once I stumbled upon the latest Eater Heat Map http://m.eater.com/archives/2010/12/29/the-eater-seattle-heat-map-where-to-eat-right-now.php

I feel like homey little hole in the wall joints that you can fill up on precious gourmet comfort meals for less than ten bucks is a rarity in Seattle, unless you hit up the I.D., Beacon Hill, White Center, or maybe Korean joints along HWY 99. Usually, so-called “foodie” and well-ranked venues like Springhill (bless your hearts and please forgive me for the following profiling:)  are in high-profiled spaces with seemingly high-profiled snooty clientele. And that with coffee and tip and maybe a slice of brioche will let you escape for those ten $mackers.

The point IS…these baked eggies were creamy, truffly (of the black variety) and had semi-firm savory sunchokes baked in with a creamy cheese crust. The green spinach salad was a great way to polish off the palate and still leave the truffle lingering and mingling with the olivey vinaigrette.

As I lurked through the website, I discovered the owner’s inspirations come from her Swiss and Chinese roots. TOTALLY made sense, after I was confounded by the melange of modern European Ikea-eske ideas of Elk-Balls and Swiss Knoepfli (swiss spaetzle) yet Asian style-comfort foods like 5-spiced Berkshire pork ribs buried in wild mushroom noodle soup.

I am so bewildered by this place, not only for the way you can get sweet unpretentious treats for under $2, its small yet bursting  selection of brunch items, the fact that its hard to spot along Eastlake ave and sits right next to a franchise that is belittling the gastronomic integrity of America, and the fact that they actually utilize a CSA farm/produce box  scheme to provide its whole food ingredients.

So, my question is, how good is a lemongrass elk meatball?

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