Wednesday, March 5, 2014

To Market, To Market

By Patricia Winton

A Winter Day at the Market
One of my favorite pastimes in Italy is shopping at the markets for food. Rome has dozens of markets scattered throughout the city. The best known, Campo di Fiori, is an outdoor market in the center of Rome. While locals do shop there, it’s a tourist spot as well and has prices and products targeting the out-of-town crowd.

There’s another tiny street market in the center near Via Margutta, Gregory Peck’s street in Roman Holiday. In this tony neighborhood, tourists pass by on the the parallel Via del Corso and Via del Babbuino, missing out on one of the best sites and experiences of the city.

Dressed Puntarelle
When I first came to Rome, I haunted the markets all over the city, getting off buses to visit a new one. I learned a great deal about Italiann, food then. On one of these excursions I first encountered puntarelle, a special Roman dish made from a type of chicory. The leaves must be stripped from the stems, the part that’s eaten, and I watched a man using a special tool for the job. In my own market, I find bags of cleaned puntarelle, but so far, I haven’t seen anybody cleaning it. The stems are dressed with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and white wine vinegar.

During my first year in Rome, I shopped with a little old man and woman who were only licensed to sell eggs. I bought four at a time, and they wrapped them in brown paper. After I had been buying from them for several months, the woman whispered, “Vuole delle fragole?” Fragole are strawberries, and I thought buying some a good idea. She took me to the trunk of her car, shielding the view with her body and placing me in line to do the same. Inside, she revealed some stunning small purple grapes. She was selling them without a license and making them available to good customers. I bought some; they were good. That’s how I learned that some grapes can be called strawberries, too.

During the fall and winter months, proprietors of vegetable stands cut vegetables to make minestrone mix. The mixture varies from stall to stall, but it will include root and leafy veggies. Sometimes it will include onion or shelled beans; sometimes not. It’s great to take a kilo home, mix it with some stock and a bay leaf, and let it simmer while I work. And lunch is ready.

I haunt just one market these days. It’s a five minute walk from my home, and I think it’s one of the best markets in the city. Covered, with heating and air conditioning, Il Mercato Tuscolano III feeds me. About 60 stalls spread throughout the hall, and unlike some markets I know, no stalls remain unused.

Entrance to My Market
One stall sells many varieties of mushrooms, another sells 20 or more varieties of fresh pasta. The center of the hall holds a stall selling fresh buffalo mozzerella. Branching of from that are many vegetable and fruit stands. Fresh eggs? Several stalls sell them. One woman sells “exotic” items. She sometimes has sweet potatoes or plantains.

You can buy a slice of pizza if you’re hungry or a cup of espresso in the corner bar. And in case you have other needs, you can buy paper towels or a spool of thread, get your shoes repaired, or pick up fresh flowers.

A couple of times, I’ve taken friends visiting Rome to the market—sometimes making lunch from our purchases. Everybody going with me has been enchanted, so far. Wish you could join me.

I’m off to Sicily in a couple of days. I’ll post from there next week—probably just photos.


Gigi Pandian said...

This sounds marvelous!

And you'd better be careful what you suggest -- as I might just take you up on your offer to join you at the market the next time I make it to Italy! I'm hoping to visit the Bomarzo Park of Monsters sometime soon, for a book I'm writing, and I think Rome is the best starting point :)

Anonymous said...

I have wonderful memories of that market....and the spectacular lunch that came after shopping....nice to have you back ... David

Anonymous said...

Loved visiting your neighborhood market and others with you when we visited. I was so impressed with how beautifully arranged all of the stalls were in each place. All were a work of art...Middle Sis

Pat Marinelli said...

Oh, I so wish I could go to market with you. Sounds like a wonderful place...and to be able to come home and cook...pure pleasure. Enjoy Sicily.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog!

Patricia Winton said...

Gigi, thanks for your comment. I hope to see you when you're in the area.

Patricia Winton said...

Hi, Middle Sis. When we three sisters are together, everything is fun. It was especially great to see you both at my market.

Patricia Winton said...

Hi, David. It was great fun to have you. You promised to come again, and I've been holding the reservation far too long.

Aeldra Robinson said...

your blog is very informative, planning for my first euro trip, I like your blog so much, it makes me want to go back to Europe even more! Very inspiring to all would-be travelers as well as aspiring bloggers like me! :)

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