Whenever I see a leafy green vegetable being sold at the market, I ask what it is. The answer is always “cicoria” (chicory greens in English). I am beginning to suspect that this word is a catchall.
Wild greens are quite fashionable these days with trendy restaurants basing their menu around what is brought to them by their forager. Foragers are like superheroes, able to identify edible things in the wild. Ordinary people would class most of the wild greens as weeds, like the dandelion. Dandelion translate to several names in Italian, including dente di leone, tarassaco, and la soffione. Once, one vendor told me that what he was selling was “tarassaco” so I began to suspect that the other vendors were all using a generic world, cicoria, for “greens” or lettuce.
In English, we call these wild greens, “foraged greens” or “wild edibles” but in Italian, they call them “spontaneous” edibles. How lovely is that?
Many of the wild greens look like cultivated greens. Arugula (rocket in British) is also popular here and looks similar to dandelion leaves. A famous Roman salad is puntarelle salad, in which the stems of the leaves are used in a salad. Puntarelle is a type of chicory. As I said, always chicory.
But, maybe in English, we should call weeds, spontaneous plants? Or opportunists? Optimistic plants?
Romans truly eat by season. They get excited by what is only available at certain times of the year. Of course, all year, there are imported vegetables and fruit in Rome, but the Romans still find joy in the seasonality of fresh vegetables. And, it seems like chicory is always in season…
Cicoria (chi-CORE-E-ah) or chicory is “Italian dandelion” and is a bitter green leafy vegetable that looks a bit like spinach. If you live in the U.S. and want to plant some for your self, this farm sells the seeds.
January: puntarelle (puhn-tah-R-ALE-eh), or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago (although no one in Rome uses these names) is in the chicory family but looks more like a thick stemmed dandelion. The Romans eat the white stems, cut to curl up, in a salad with an anchovy garlic dressing — like a zero-carb caesar salad. No cheese. In other parts of Italy, puntarelle are cooked. In Rome, only the trimmings are cooked as part of a general vegetable stew. But, the white inner stems are the treasure.
March: agretti, asparagi selvatici (wild asparagus), fava beans, and artichokes. Wild asparagus are slimmer and have a stronger taste. Agretti (Salsola Soda, opposite-leaved saltwort, opposite leaf Russian thistle, Roscano, or barilla plant) is almost unknown in the English speaking world, although recently becoming a bit of a thing with chefs.
April: Strawberries, agretti (monk’s beard), peas, beans, and small artichokes.
May: Peas, beans, spring onions, garlic chives, etc.
June: Apricots, peaches, green beans, potatoes, etc.
July: Melons, peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, lettuce, etc.
August: This was hard to figure out as most of the markets close in August… but at the back of the Trionfale market, there are still some zero kilometer farmers who sell their produce. So it’s all about peaches, cucumbers, pears, walnuts, water melons, cantaloup melons (called so because they were grown in Cantalupo just outside Rome), lettuce, grapes, nectarines, plums, and apples.
October: pumpkin, potatoes, gourds, squash, nuts, cabbage, lettuce, and peppers.
November: potatoes, clementines, and nespole/medlars.
December: puntarelle, artichokes, and clementines.
Every restaurant will have “seasonal vegetable” on the menu and it will always be cicoria/chicory greens. Very healthy. One of the nice things about living in Rome is that it is possible to eat pesticide free food and in a perpetual “farmer’s market” all year round. I have to admit that I’m excited for artichoke season after not having artichokes for six months.
At the start of every year, and indeed at most other times of the year, there is someone who wants to eat salad. I was asked to do a posting about salad which I took to be about salad with lettuce. So, let us eat lettuce!
Cosme: “Col” salad at Cosme. This large (larger than most main courses) salad is served on a ten inch wide plate and is large enough for a main dish or to be shared as an appetizer. It is listed as an appetizer on the menu at Cosme. The salad has raw shredded red cabbage, alfalfa, cashews, hearts of palm, artichoke, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and the dressing is a yogurt based dressing so you feel healthy when eating it.
Matria: Also has a decent salad. It’s pretty and actually makes you want to eat salad.
Osso: Although Osso is a steak house, there is a selection of salads including an attractive wedge salad (in real life, in the close up above, the wedges rise like the Andes covered in mint green and dusted with bacon and candied pecans). The second salad mentioned, “salad #3” contains tiny deep fried cheese balls. I recommend keeping the dressing on the side, and foregoing the song and dance of the waiter pouring and tossing, so that you can enjoy the fried cheese “croutons”. The salad is called #3 because on the old menu, it was the #3 (at least, I think that’s why).
Cafe Mozart: Located in San Borja, this cafe has an all-you-can-eat salad bar. The salad bar has a full selection of cooked items including pasta salads and many other salads to put in the salad.
La Mora: They have several salads. They also use a classic European mustard vinaigrette. Because the olive oil is whipped/emulsified in, the dressing has the thickness of an aoli (mayonnaise in plain language).
Cafe A Bistro: The head salad is like an iceberg wedge salad, but you get all and not only the wedge (the photo doesn’t do the salad justice as the salad is more impressive when viewed in profile).
Antica: One of the salads uses butter/bib lettuce and has wedges of oranges among other things making it a decent salad.
La Panka: This chain restaurant has large salads. The one below is with roasted veg and chicken. The salad is the size of small hot tub.
La Linterna: Also has a decent house salad with ham and pecans.
Taller Razeto: Has good salads (melted cheese on a bed of lettuce in the photo below), but the restaurant is out in La Punta so not a daily destination unless you live there.
Pardos Chicken: Has a lettuce salad but I like their “cooked salad” with cooked carrots, beets, beans, and avocado. But, we were talking about lettuce.
Poke Pacifiko: As you can order exactly what you want, I imagine you can make your own salad. I’m sure you can get it without fish.
Plus, I would guess that most of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants have lettuce salads.
There is an organic farmers market in Bogota. Every Sunday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. The address is Calle 69, 6-20, up from Carrera 7 (up the street from the gas station). The google location will show Impact Hub Bogota. The farmers market is located in the courtyard. From the street, you will see the white tents above the brick wall.
They have quinoa in multiple variations, and acai food stand (move aside ice cream!), other ready-made foods, vegetables, soaps, and organic cleaning products.
This place is small and hard to find. There are only about seven stalls. The market has been there every Sunday for three years. Many of the vendors supply some of the restaurants in Bogota.
Cusco is usually considered a preparatory stop on the way to Machu Picchu. But, Cusco should be considered a food destination. The food in Cusco was like the weather, crisp and clean. Every time I asked about the vegetables, including the lettuce, I was told that they were fresh from the Sacred Valley. I don’t have many photos of our salads… because it’s salad.
One of the salads included a peanut-like item which was also from the Sacred Valley.
I don’t like quinoa but when it’s used to bread deep fried shrimp, then I like it. The food in Cusco was delicious. Surely, it helped that we had been out in the fresh Sacred Valley air all day.