23 June 2008

Shopping: the produce

Have I shown you the gorgeous farm stands that I frequent when Rialto is closed?

And did I mention that one of them is a boat?

Nothing prepared me for Italy’s produce, for the vast variety of citrus, pumpkins, beans, pears, potatoes, greens, grapes, artichokes, and melons. For all the different and utterly perfect tomatoes. For the two-bite, super-sweet, seedless clementines with skin so thin that you can eat it too. For the chubby, oily walnuts. For the big, red, pointy cultivated strawberries and the little, pink, roundy wild ones. For doll-size pears, not much bigger than a large olive. For the cheap and hyper-aromatic herbs that don’t go limp or get slimy in the fridge.

My list of things tasted for the first time is still growing: those costaluto di Marsala tomatoes, small, black, tough-skinned pumpkins, big, flat spadone beans and flamingo pink-speckled borlotti beans, cavolo nero (Roman black cabbage), cedro (Sicilian citron), peretti (coppery mini pears with a slight taste of almond) and pere coscia (pretty little yellow pears, perfect to bake in flaky pastry jackets), valeriana (a lot like mache or lamb’s lettuce but much cheaper), Chioggia beets (the slices look like Brach’s peppermints), “coco bebys” (watermelons only slightly larger than a grapefruit) and another smooth little melon with bright lemon-colored flesh, giant-leafed borage that’s cooked and eaten as greens, fragola grapes (like small, tight, double-sugary Concords), leggy Treviso radicchio, lime green-skinned, neon orange-fleshed miyagawas, a particular basil that smells just like a Christmas tree, snowy white asparagus, stinging nettles and bruscandoli (wild hop buds) for risotto, skinny purple artichokes, zucchine tonde (pale green, ball-shaped squash), sea kale...

There is only one thing I miss in this department, and it’s something utterly American: pecans.