Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring vegetable fun

 The market is one of my favorite weekly events.  We have it every Thursday in the Old Town, and, after the flood, I realized how important it was and how much I missed it when we couldn't have it for obvious flood destruction related reasons.  Now, my vegetable vendors are back - and though I love the little shop here in town, the vendors that come once a week have some really interesting things that I'm always buying, even if I have no idea what they are. 
A great example of this is the vegetable below.  Bundled up in a little rubber band when I bought them, I asked the woman selling them if they were like chives.  "No, no," she said, shaking her head, and then explained that I should boil them, and then sautee in a pan with oil and garlic, a trick that seems to work with anything that grows in the ground.  I got home and did some internet research, and found that this odd little green has the name barba di frate, or "monk's beard", because of it's long, seaweed-like pieces.  It's crunchy and bright when eaten raw, and remarkable close to spinach when sauteed.  In the U.S., it's called salsola soda, which I have never seen in any market, but it primarily eaten only here in Italy. 
There is always a colorful bounty of things to buy, some obviously more familiar to me, some fun experiments, but in the spring, the markets are exploding with smells and vivid reds, deep greens, crunching leaves and spindly artichokes.  Bright strawberries make their first appearance on the table, and fava beans are starting to push their way in.  It's exciting to see seasonality so prominently displayed. 
Here, it's not a fad or a new food trend, but simply the way you eat food. 
I walked home this week with three huge bags of vegetables, carrot tops popping out of the bag and beet greens brushing people walking close to me, and as I tried to cram my wild, fresh asparagus from Levanto in the tiny fridge, I realized that this is, truly, the best sign of spring.
barba di frate sauteed with garlic and oil

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