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Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

quail spigot

So, yes, there are bananas from Ecuador at all of the markets here, and much of the beef comes from Brazil.  But this is also the land of plenty when it comes to local foods.  When my new friend Anna and I were walking with our little ones around the Bass Garden here at the American Academy the other day, we just kept saying, “wow, isn’t this paradise?”  Here’s a sampling of what we saw—in this over-the-top edible yard (and this is after much of the summer vegetable garden has been tilled under).

One last lonely cherry tomato:

a little tomato

Plum trees so heavy with clusters, the fruit is dropping to the ground:

plum cluster

Olive trees dripping with thousands of olives:

olives

Fig trees, not with fruit this late, but still with a beautiful canopy:

fig canopy

Grapes:

grapes

Also growing in plentiful patches here are hot peppers, sage, and persimmons.

Anna and I, along with Lulu and Jack (4) and Jesse (2), took a leisurely tour of the garden, stopping to admire and sample all of the fruit, and to take a drink from the gurgling fountain:

water fountain

Jack and Lulu also floated things down the irrigation canal—something of a mini Roman aqueduct for their world of miniature boats and barges:

waiting for boats

The water flows into a basin with a drain and a spigot.  To turn on the water at this end, you twist the little quail pictured above.

Our tour concluded when we saw a thunderhead approaching, above the umbrella pines:

thunderhead

This post is just an appreciation of beauty….   Soon, though, I’d like to address some questions—hinted at above—that I’ve been looking into about what local eating means in Rome, about pesticides and organics in Italy, and about farm sizes and types.  Stay tuned.

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What a morning! My friend Jeannie took me on a tour of some of her favorite food shops in Trastevere. We left our boys, Nico and Jack, drawing with crayons at Scuola Arcobaleno, and took the 44 bus down the hill, transferred to tram, crossed the Tiber, and hit the streets.  Our first stop was at a bar (yes, it was morning, but coffee shops are called bars, here), the interior of which was like a cave of sparkling chrome and mahogany.  We stood at the marble counter and sipped cappuccinos, priming ourselves for a busy morning.

Our first stop was Antico Forno Marco Roscioli—a beautifully abundant bakery better known as Roscioli.  Follow the “FORNO” sign:

fornoInside, a curved bank of display counters embraces the gaggle of customers pointing high and low to the breads and pastries they want.

pane

bakers

bakers

I bought pizza bianco, a half-loaf of whole wheat bread with figs baked into the crumb, and four little almond macaroons which, I just discovered, conceal a sweet cherry in their centers.  Next time, I’ll have to get one of these apple torts:

tortine di mele

From there, we wandered into the Campo di Fiori, over which the hooded heliocentrist heretic Giordano Bruno presides, and where on weekday mornings there is an open-air market.

campo di fiori

I bought un pezzo di zucca—a chunk of pumpkinish squash—which I’ll use in risotto, and some spices I’ve been missing: ground cumin and cumin seeds, and cinnamon.  The vendor scooped tiny handfuls with a plastic bag:

spices

Next, we went to a shoe store.  Having brought with me four pairs of sandals and two pairs of tall boots but nothing in between for the rainy fall weather, I justified to myself a shoe-shopping detour.  Jeannie took me to a shoe store, called Ugo Celli, that has been in business since 1912.  After looking at the selection in the window display in the foyer, you enter the store, which has looked just like this since 1938, when it was last renovated:

shoe store

They still have the original register (though they also accept credit cards):

shoe store register

Feeling weighed down with purchases, we decided to turn in the direction of home, but made one last culinary-destination stop, at Antica Caciara, a friendly cheese shop just off of the main drag of Viale di Trastevere.   Jeannie bought a mild cheese called Sienetta and some feta, and I asked for some Sienetta as well, along with some ricotta, all of which were wrapped carefully in slightly waxy paper.

Lunch hour was approaching, and we both had fresh things in our fridges, along with the bread and cheese we’d bought today, so we decided to head home.  We also felt a twinge of guilt for not working but shopping all morning.  The walk home will make anyone feel virtuous, though, because it’s basically a climb up a mountain.  This aspect of living in Rome gives me deja vu, because it’s just like my walk from “the gourmet ghetto” of Berkeley to Euclid Ave., where I lived for a few years.  Stairs, paths, hairpin turns, bags heavy with good food, lush vegetation.

Here’s just a taste of my walk home:

steps 1

steps 2

Just one more flight…

steps 4

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I find that what I cook for dinner here in Rome is similar to what I cooked in Vermont or Alabama.  The only difference is that the ingredients are generally better or cheaper.  For example, last night I made bucatini (long, skinny tube pasta) with the ingredients I had in the fridge from previous days at the markets: chanterelles, dandelion greens, prosciutto, fresh onion, garlic, parmaggiano reggiano I’d grated with a hand-grater.

greens

It was delicious.   And made with ingredients that would have been much more expensive in the States and would have been seen with a halo, or rather a tiara, above them, which spelled out “e-l-i-t-e f-o-o-d.”  Ingredients like dandelion greens, for instance, are perversely seen as unusual, elitist, and foodie-fetishized by the general public.  This is unfortunate, because they are so delicious and easy (to grow and to cook).

Here in Rome, everyone buys and cooks huge bunches of dandelion greens, varieties of chicory, treviso, radicchio, and countless kinds of beans.  Everyone buys multiple varieties of tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes and not like paper towels injected with citric acid.  I was talking to Mona, the chef at the American Academy, about this observation a few days ago.  She had a few explanations.  One is that Italian cuisine is based on greens, grains, and beans.  To Americans, this sounds like “health food,” but think about what an amazingly varied pyramid-foundation these food groups provide.  Everyone in every socio-economic group here eats greens, grains, and beans.  Another reason has to do with land ownership.  Historically, land has been owned by the church and leased to small-scale farmers.  The “get big or die” dictum doesn’t really work here.  Agricultural land and the regional cuisines are seen as part of a national heritage, too, and so there are social, cultural, and economic motives for preserving the status quo when it comes to food.

I don’t need to rehearse for my readers the problems with the farm bills of recent history or the problematic ramifications of agricultural subsidies in the U.S.  Everyone knows that large-scale monocultures of commodity crops like corn and soybeans end up being favored over diversified smaller farms that might grow dandelion greens alongside sweet onions, tomatoes, and melons.  The consequences of this kind of agribusiness are a dumbed-down or simply wiped-out cuisine, a boring selection of cheap food that must be jazzed up with corn-derived substances and packaging to sell, diet-related diseases, a general lack of cooking skills, and a silly politicization of good, real food, whereby fresh fava beans are seen as chi chi.

I’m learning things here that could be taken home.  (OK, get out your corn-tassel pom-poms for this): C’mon, America, let’s get real!

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fagioli

Prettiest when raw, these swirly colored pink and white beans are a satisfying bite-size.  I bought a large handful at a market stand the other day, and Jack helped me shell them yesterday afternoon.

shelling

My idea was to mix up a nice cold bean and grain salad.  In some chicken stock, I simmered the beans until al dente, not mushy, and in another pot simmered a friendly blend of whole grains: farro, brown rice, orzo, and some others.  When these were done, I tossed them together with minced fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes and red pepper.  Whatever you have on hand would be good.  For lunch today, I dressed it with vinaigrette, and put a big spoonful of it on top of a mache and treviso salad.

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On Jack’s first day of school, I stayed there with him for a couple of hours, to ease him into the experience of a new school in a new language.  We left just before lunch, and took a looping, indirect way home, stopping at market stalls and shops along the way.  One of my destinations was a half-block of street closed to cars, where vendors were selling fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese, and household odds and ends.

mkt st

We bought bags of the pink-and-white-swirled fagioli borlotti, and of blackberries that taste as sweet and meaty as pears.  Not a trace of tartness, which is a surprising sensation!  To be honest, I only bought the pricey 3-Euro basket because Jack fondled them.  The unspoken rule of etiquette at the markets is: you touch it, you buy it.

veg mkt

Next time, I think I’ll get some of these elegant peppers:

peppers

The most delicious item we bought, though, was the melon.  Sweet as honey and juicy as, well, juice:

melon

Next, we went to the bread shop, which is the most nondescript shop I think I’ve ever seen.  What you have to do is follow the scent of baking bread with your nose, and look for a bunch of people standing around chatting happily, and moving in a constant stream in and out of a narrow door.  That’s the line for bread.

bread store

Once inside, I was crammed shoulder to shoulder with people buying multiple bags of bread, biscotti, pizza, and cornetti (croissants).  Jack stood in a corner, with his backpack and sunglasses on, eating an apple.  He looked as nonchalent as a true Italian.  The only proper name of a bread I knew was pizza bianca (what we call focaccia), so I asked for that and used gestures and alternate “grazie”s and “per favore”s to indicate how much I wanted.  Then I asked for quattro biscotti, and pointed at these cute little lemony-almondy cookies:

biscotti

Oh, boy, were they good.

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I said I’d do a bit more on roasted fowls as a follow-up to that Moby-Dick passage.  Instead, last night, I braised chicken legs with Moroccan spices, and stirred it all up with some roasted eggplant.

We’re in Brookline for a few days, before we take off for Rome (tomorrow!), so I went to Whole Foods for the ingredients.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Whole Foods, mainly because of where we’ve been living, and re-entering that hate-to-love-it-love-to-hate-it temple of food was an interesting experience of thrilled disappointment.  I know this is the classic complaint against Whole Foods, but I’ll voice it again anyway: Where is all the local food? Why is all the produce from California when Massachusetts farmers’ markets are bursting with bounty right now?  I know, it’s the logic of industrial organics, the economics of scale.  But I was still disappointed.

Anyway, I shopped as locally as I could for the basic recipe I had in mind.  The spices and herbs were already at the house.  I needed just a few organic chicken legs, two eggplants, and some Israeli cous cous.  Here’s what I made:

moroccan chix

Moroccan Chicken
serves 4-8, depending

1 onion, chopped
4 chicken legs
2 eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. honey
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tbs. salt
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 lg. can whole peeled tomatoes
2 tbs. chopped fresh marjoram

The chicken tastes best if you start the day before, and marinate it over night.

With a mortar and pestle, crush caraway seeds, salt, and garlic together, then combine in a large bowl with lemon juice, honey, and olive oil.  With mortar and pestle, crush the other seeds, then add all the spices to the lemon-honey mixture.  Put the chicken in this marinade, coat all over, and refrigerate over night.

Preheat oven to 400. Toss cubed eggplant in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast for 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, saute onion in a dutch oven, add the tomatoes, add the chicken, and braise for 40 minutes or so.  Before serving, over cous cous, stir in the eggplant and let it all sit and blend for a few minutes.

(Take the spice amounts as rough measurements, and season to your taste. i.e. Add more cumin!)

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Late August on the Outer Cape is like one long lazy day.  Mornings and evenings are cool, but the sun warms everything in between—except the Atlantic waves.

collecting tomatoes

collecting tomatoes

We’ve eaten fish, of course, but the food fun I had yesterday we found by the roadside instead of the seaside.  Just down Long Nook Road from Jack’s grandparents’ house, we stopped at a little farmstand to buy some things for lunch.  Jack wanted the pumpkin, but I picked out sungolds, a squash, and the tiniest red potatoes I’ve ever seen.

prayer flags
pumpkin

Then, we went to the playground.

the twirling tire swing is the best!

the twirling tire swing is the best!

resting, alongside a bluefin

resting, alongside a bluefin

Back home for lunch, I boiled the potatoes, warmed some scallions and leftover grilled chicken in olive oil, and then tossed it all together in a bowl with some vinegar and mustard.  A quick, warm salad makes a delicious lunch.

bite-sized beauties

bite-sized beauties

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umrella hat

The other rainy night, we had a little casual dinner party with my parents’ best friends of four decades, who happen now to live on the same long dirt driveway in Norwich, Vermont.  I’d been wanting to make a recipe from one of my favorite bloggers, Tribeca Yummy Mummy, for roasted tomato pasta with scallops.  It was amazingly delicious, especially with picked-that-day organic sungolds and grape tomatoes and basil.  Here are the tomatoes, slicked with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, ready to get roasty:

roast tomat

We had spicy greens in a salad, and then a berry crumble.  I like making crumble, because it’s so easy.  You don’t even need to look at a recipe for the topping if you just remember “it’s all 1.”

Mixed Berry Crumble

Topping:
1 c. flour
1 c. sugar (mix brown and white)
1 stick butter, cut into small nobs
1 tsp. salt
1 handful sliced almonds (or walnuts, or oats)

Filling:

3-4 c. mixed berries (I used blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries)
1/3 c. sugar
a sprinkle of almond extract

Preheat oven to 400.  Mix the filling in the baking pan. Frozen berries are ok.

With your fingertips, blend the topping until it all clings together in clumps.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling. Bake for 40 minutes or so.

berry crumble

Get it before it’s gone!

crumble

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When we got to the Hanover Farmers’ Market yesterday, thunder was rumbling in the not-too-far distance.  We wouldn’t be able to linger.  I went straight for the Cedar Circle Farm booth, where I was almost overcome by the vivid colors spread before me!

I spent all the cash in my pocket on this pile of (always organic) beauty:

cedar circ vegs

When we got back to my parents’ house at the far end of Turnpike Road in Norwich, it was still too hot to turn on the oven or even think systematically about a meal.  I pulled out a tub of hummus, and we used it as dip for the celery (the most celeryish celery I’ve ever tasted!) and the sungolds.

In spite of the sky–another storm brewing after some hot sun–we decided to cook out.

dark clouds over the back hill

dark clouds over the back hill

We had some grass fed ground beef from Hogwash Farm, so we decided to do burgers, corn on the cob, and a big chopped salad combining the tomatoes, some peppers, radishes from Killdeer, and cucumbers and herbs from our garden.  Dressed with a bit of mustard vinaigrette, it was flavorful, cool, and perfectly satisfying.

This is the only season when a raw salad like that, with little adornment or special treatment, tastes so vivid.

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Mmmm… I have such a craving for a luscious tomato tart.  Roasting brings out such intense flavors.  And melted cheese: the deliciousness of the thought speaks for itself.

However, it’s pushing 90 today, and I won’t be turning on the oven.  How to celebrate high tomato season with something a little simpler, more “rustic” and conducive to lazing around than the pretty spiral of tomato, mozz, and basil (though I have nothing against that salad!)?

Panzanella!  A bread salad made with summer’s basics: stale bread, tomatoes, basil.

panz ingreds

The structure of this basic flavor combination provides a strong background for additions, if they come in as accents.  Have some leftover anchovies or olives?  A wedge of lemon?  Toss in a few capers, too, from that bottle that always seems full.  Some other backyard herbs would be nice too, as long as the basil sets the tone.

We’ll have this tonight, with grilled chicken.  Killdeer folks: see you soon.

For the cooler nights later this week, though, I’ll be turning to the tart.  I think I’ll try this recipe, recently posted in the Times.

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