12 Seasons of Roman Vegetables and Fruit

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…

Three types of asparagus with the expensive wild version in the front.

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.

The first stage of the preparation of puntarelle.
Puntarelle ready for dressing.

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.

Agretti
Peas and fava beans are both eaten fresh and raw when young. Fava beans are eaten with pecorino cheese.

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.

Apples

September: Pears, apples, figs, melons, lettuce, broccoli tops, pumpkins, pumpkin greens, plums, peppers, chiles, peaches, and grapes.

Pumpkin greens

October: pumpkin, potatoes, gourds, squash, nuts, cabbage, lettuce, and peppers.

November: potatoes, clementines, and nespole/medlars.

Medlars which one eats when they are brown and toffee like.

December: puntarelle, artichokes, and clementines.

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.

The Round Cucumber of Puglia

When researching my book about Italian food, I discovered the round melon cucumber of Puglia. It was described as a cross between a melon and a cucumber.

I was eager to try it and I thought I would have to wait till I could travel to Puglia. But, one day at the Campo de Fiori market, I saw it. The cucumber tastes like a mild cucumber (even milder) but has the shape of a melon. The rind is slightly leathery and I actually liked the way it has a pleasant chewiness.

Imagine if these were grown without seeds? They would be perfect for sandwiches. Never mind that, after my terrible encounter with a normal Italian cucumber back in November, I was just happy that this one didn’t bite my tongue off with bitterness. I had a Greek salad the other day, and the cucumber was equally bitter.

I didn’t expect the cucumbers to be bitter in Italy. But, then again, Romans like bitter greens like chicory so why not bitter cucumber (not to be confused with bitter gourd).

Note: If you prefer to watch this blog article as a video, click here for my YouTube channel.

Eating Monk’s Beard

In March, I saw clumps of grass being sold at the markets. I asked what it was and was told, “agretti” — in English, this vegetable is called Salsola Soda or Opposite-Leaved Saltwort (although I don’t think it’s a common thing to eat in English speaking countries so the name may not be so important). In Italian, the fun name is Monk’s beard.

I asked the vegetable seller how to cook it and she said, to cook it in salted water for ten minutes, dress with olive oil and lemon juice, a bit of salt and pepper, and eat. Some recipes say to add garlic so I may do that. I like this recipe because I like the idea of cooking it with spaghetti so that the shapes are similar. First I tried it without any flavorings so I can see what it tastes like.

I over cooked the pasta… I was too busy taking photos!

For those who live in the U.S. and want to grow Italian vegetables, this site also provides some information on them. This vegetable is supposedly becoming more popular with chefs. Other season vegetables right now are wild asparagus and artichokes. I even saw some sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes, at the market the other day.

While the appearance is a bit like chives, it tastes more like… grass, and has a nice slippery texture. I think this would be a very healthy vegetable and it could be fun as a dish by itself. I made it with spaghetti so that the shapes matched. Of course, I put cheese on it.

The Markets of Port of Spain

hsTFlEhXRAjAQ-If8AHp9QK8Gqo4jZh8AvPTs6P0WGbnBRkiAMy-oMZqJ1wTZ3mnxJVB2faSoRBXBbzetviQWyARKO5Sc7GRbb3SQUvMcMGEYfa8XZRmZGgrSwke3TSCT5Y8KddX-kkrSYO1p8Rak6VB9POKDcjOEDw7PCgC7sRwezsxtGf8F51RGHAnother extremely short list. There are vegetable markets in most of the towns in Trinidad, but it’s not a “thing” to do here. I like exploring markets and I managed to express my interest to the driver.

NSpFbuhe7R5zZY30zTx_3SsNb5SBWzrIKvsYmf3GABDJnCQLK3OmQDYKUPfTmqc3-qy50EKwK-SeKCcxLVeTkRbfTYFQjozBbTfbqHpsppULFs2unwbH64rPNTQJwQzux8_Syn3-nNcQTW-6AfjoXG5hjwP2gAb0g1BhHU0ruZH16ftIYFXcJFFZubThe yuppie market is the Green Market in Santa Cruz. This market is on the way to Maracas Bay. The market has vegetables, meats, food stalls, musicians, massage booth, and artisan stalls (soap maker). Apparently, this market was the brainchild of a Trini who had lived in the U.S. and decided to bring back the idea of the farmer’s market to Trinidad.

QGEwSbVh0piF8kVdHkYbPUy7eP1DN0J-zsKYI9MBJ366yaaXfh0ioAhUapHX-sMXY445OanAHhRmy6tTT3Ix_kTzO2RxCvAMoBpE1X7_DI11MLWHjoDrGSDcVHKKEk0h6Lp62O5zWazQEJJUpe41UKGYRdPbPVCXCNYygZk0PYJZcMczGUHaeVwg4fThe biggest market is Central Market. Most of the stalls sell vegetables and fruits. There is a food “court” down in the corner of a large hall. Most of the vendors prefer to set up their stalls outside where the cars can drive past and use them as a drive thru, leaving most the dark interior stalls empty and boarded up. Many of the items for sale were breadfruit and coconuts. Some of the vendors made me some blatant offers which were not on the regular vegetable selection.

nWSOLvaatIaluqi-nbwwWr8R0P6TkamOTbPHO6yWUUw2jYYCYEqCdSzoo5Du1VUuCPK0TLH2evgcT7xa80LewiQtH5Dozjh0pJSQ_fK2SAioR4-Zw-ktjPjWvNchLK3ytZkaG505a1hd9xSkiG1Jvy5GQrZLthf2RD4zy4ijFztF78s2-sPo6B7wvmThe one I liked the most is Tunapuna in the town of Tunapuna. It was lively and busy. The locals were busy shopping and ignored me except when they treated me like any other customer. This market also included some ferocious clothes shopping.

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Asian Vegetables in Bogota

Marinated perilla leaves.
Marinated perilla leaves.

The Chinese porcelain cat with the waving paw is the give-away. In the U.S., it’s called “napa cabbage” but in Bogota, it’s called “Chinese cabbage.”  Whatever it’s called, it’s almost impossible to find in Bogota, I guess because it’s not a normal part of the diet here.

Kimchi in the making, raw napa cabbage.
Kimchi in the making, raw napa cabbage.

I went on the hunt. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination but I feel like in the months that I’ve lived in Bogota, more and more grocery stores are offering “Asian” vegetables like napa cabbage, daikon, and leafy greens other than spinach. But, in most of the stores, the Asian vegetables are droopy and expensive (whenever I buy bok choy in the market, it’s never the tiny ones served to me at Gran China but I guess they, as a restaurant, get preference). It’s better to go to Paloquemao. In particular, “Peter’s Fruits and Vegetables – Chinese Products Available” which I call “Peter’s Chinese Vegetable” just because I think it would sound better. There are quite a few stands in the same area of the market selling asparagus, giant daikon, arugula, chives, and leafy greens.The last time I went, I bought two large backpacks worth of vegetables and it cost me 24,000 pesos (about $11). There is a separate lady who sells nothing by chiles. The other “Asian vegetable” which is hard to find even in the U.S., is perilla leaf. Maki Roll on Carrera 11 sells that.

Japanese-Korean seafood pancake with long green onion-chive vegetables.
Japanese-Korean seafood pancake with long green onion-chive vegetables.

As an aside, Peter’s also sells sweet potato (yams to Americans and “Peruvian camote” here — a sweet potato with an orange color, used in Peruvian ceviche and North American food) and kale. Some of the vendors even use the English words and if they see a foreigner, they’ll call out “kale” or “sweet potato” to attract customers.

Cucumber Kimchi – It Is Really Easy!

Thanks to Paloquemao market, I’m able to find “Asian vegetables” to make Asian food. This includes kimchi.

Cucumber kimchi in pride of place on the table.
Cucumber kimchi in pride of place on the table.

In Dhaka, I organized Korean cooking lessons and it was possible to buy Korean goods at the Korean mart in Dhaka (and I had my special Korean place in Dhaka to supply me). In Bogota there is no Korean supermarket with ready-to-eat small dishes (other than Maki Roll restaurant which has a few items for sale). Also, I haven’t found my kimchi source (Casa de Coreana‘s is the best in Bogota, in my opinion), so I decided that I would have to make it myself.

Hand made cucumber kimchi.
Hand made cucumber kimchi.

The recipe is easy to find on the Internet (Maangchi is one of favorite) and I used her easy recipe involving fish sauce. I made it and it was delicious!

Cucumber kimchi made by me.
Cucumber kimchi at six hours old.

The Market in Bogota – Paloquemao

A salesman peeks out from his herb stall at Paloquemao market.
A salesman peeks out from his herb stall at Paloquemao market.

Paloquemao is possibly the most famous market in Bogota. Paloquemao is located in the west of Bogota. As people often refer to it as the “flower market,” I had expected rows and rows of flower stalls under and open roof.

One of the passages in the market.
One of the passages in the market.

Instead, Paloquemao was a warren of narrow stalls all bunched together like a souk. There were separate sections for fruit, meat, house plants, and food stalls. The prices were better than at the supermarkets.

The fruit lady was very friendly and kept making me try new fruits, once I told her that I only wanted to try fruits I’d never tried before. I left with a backpack full of produce for 30,000 Colombian pesos ($15). It didn’t even occur to me to bargain. Should I have?

There is an even bigger market, Abastos (also called Corabastos or Central de Abastos), which is the wholesale market and apparently the second largest in South America. I’ll visit it one of these Sundays.

The array of fruit and vegetables from the market.
The array of fruit and vegetables from the market.