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 Real Cucina Povera Is Vegetarian

These are salad greens, which are different from cooking greens.

In almost all cooking or travel shows about Rome, “cucina povera” — the poor kitchen, is featured with the host shown noshing at the offal of some animal. Invariably, they will also mention the fifth quarter, the quinto quarto, which is what is left after the other parts were shared between the nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie, and military.

Borage. I think.

What if you were vegetarian? I’m being facetious, because if you are poor, you eat what you can. Most poor people, through history, have been vegetarian. On a side note, the pig is the only barnyard animal that is worth more when dead. Most animals are worth more for their eggs, milk, wool, etc.

Cooked chicory greens. Available every single day.

Italians have been poor for most of their history (from long before there was a nation called Italy — created in 1861) and their cuisine has grown from necessity. As recently as a few generations ago, there were times of famine. Eating offal such as heart, tripe, and other organ meat, would have been rare. The daily food would have been vegetables, bread, pasta, and legumes, such as wild greens and beans. Even today, there are dishes such as puree of fava beans served with chicory greens. Vegetables that would be considered weeds are normal food in Italy. Dandelion and other wild greens that are now on Michelin star menus have been normal food here for centuries. Things like beet tops/greens which would be animal feed in other countries, is normal human fodder.

Dandelion?

Parmesan cheese has over thirty percent protein so it is considered a good source of protein when meat is not available. It is called “the poor man’s meat” or was, but it certainly is not for the poor anymore. Meat is cheaper. There are even recipes that call for toasted breadcrumbs — this was if you could not even afford cheese.

Broccoli greens.

I recently discovered another frugal use of dairy. Ricotta is made from the whey leftover from the making of cheese. In Puglia, they take the ricotta and let it ferment to become “Ricotta Forte” a strong cream cheese product that is picante because its sourness will bite you in the back of the throat. I have not asked but it’s probably “good for you” which normally means they need to convince you to eat it…

Fortunately, there is olive oil. Even the poor can afford it. Italy was a mostly agricultural society and even today there are many small farmers. Many big city families still own an olive tree orchard and produce their own olive oil each year.

Today is mother’s day in Italy, but really, every day is mother’s day in Italy. While men are often the famous chefs, it’s the mothers who do the majority of the cooking. They can even turn weeds into comfort food.

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.

East Asian Grocery Stores in Rome

This article is mainly about the Chinese and Korean (and Philippine) grocery stores in Rome (there are many Bangladeshis in Rome and many run the local produce shops). For more, read this blogger’s post on the Asian grocery stores in Rome. Almost all the Asian grocery stores are located near the Termini train station where there are many other Chinese shops selling non-food items. This area also has stores with supplies from parts of Africa and other parts of the world.

I get lots of questions about where to buy cilantro, as it is a big part of Southeast Asian cuisine and Mexican food, so I’ll include a point about that (it tastes like soap to me so I can’t stand it. Someone should start an Instagram just for cilantro…)

Back to the Asian stores. One thing that all these stores sell is a plethora of ramen. Who knew there were so many types?

This a tiny segment of the walls of ramen.

Asia Supermarket, Via Ricasoli 20: The entrance/exit is badly planned, and this shop is bigger than it appears. Fresh vegetables, fresh tofu, cooking utensils, fish sauce, etc.

Xin Ye Gruppo, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II 34: Mostly dry goods but it’s bigger than it looks so you can find rice paper, ground cumin, fresh ginger, soldering tools, and bowls, etc.

Tapioca pasta balls for “bubble” tea.

La Famiglia (Korean store), Via Filippo Turati 102: Located in a courtyard, you must leave the busy street and go into the building’s courtyard. Mostly Korean goods. No fresh vegetables.

When you see the sign, that’s where the entrance is located.
Enter and the Korean store is located in the right hand corner.

The Korean Market, Via Cavour 84: Mainly frozen and dry foods from Korea and Japan. Owners are Korean.

This store has the fanciest address on a main street. All items imported from Korea.

Nuovo Mercato Esquilino, Via Principe Amedeo 184: Famous ethnic market of Rome. It’s more like a suq or wet market.

Bok choy from my local South Asian vendor. Ask and they can usually provide. Plus, most South Asians speak English.

Unknown name, Philippino corner store, Via Calatafirmi 14/a (the street intersects with itself and this shop is on the corner – on google, it appears as Hotel Papagermano): This small shop sells dried foods but also jarred kimchi. This kimchi is the one that I like to eat.

Kimchi from Korea

Trionfale market, Via Andrea Doria 41 (this is not near the Termini station and is located north of the Vatican, in Prati): There are several stalls that specialize in Asian vegetables and foods, so you can find what you will need there. If you enter from the Via Andrea Doria main entrance, the staff is on your right (box # 238) almost the minute you enter the market. The stall also has noodles and other items that you might need.

Cilantro, ginger, noodles, fish sauce…

Testaccio Market, Via Aldo Munazio 66b (every taxi driver knows where the market is located, or should). Has parking: Also carries cilantro at times. There is an herb staff (stall #34) that has it. Cilantro is “coriandolo” in Italian.

Noodles, pasta, and snacks.

Many of the markets are beginning to sell exotic fruits and vegetables, and many grocery stores sell a few “international” items. I’ll update this article as I discover more.

Testaccio Market

Mercato Testaccio (“mare-cah-toe” “tess-tah-chi-oh”) seems world famous, but I may be getting too “Rome blind” and just assume that everyone has watched 500 videos about Rome. No, you haven’t? Well, if you want, you can watch MY video, on my YouTube channel, about Testaccio Market. And then see where the rabbit hole takes you.

Testaccio market is located in the neighborhood of Testaccio, just south of historic center along the river. This location is the new location which was purpose built. It’s organized and has parking! Here is a good run down from another blog who posted this article.

One thing I really like about markets is the hustle and bustle. With pandemic distancing, it’s lacking some of that. But, it was still lovely to hear Italians talking louder than a hush. Of the markets I’ve been to, Trionfale is larger so I may like that one more. Testaccio feels a little too gentrified.

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.

Lettuce, Lettuce, Let Us Eat Lettuce!

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!

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Matria: Also has a decent salad. It’s pretty and actually makes you want to eat salad.

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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).

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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.w1juIMnVrScp_q6FwjmCp1IIUQfkxbaWXebVY9S8jaypnMl_-YvzYCcby_vkgAjMYO_M2H3nWUk8MqsdX-Y5ghc2dDC0TdS07xM0oYrX0GkrZYNDGYyzU6XQC0usC2JSAjfYsEHYKUGpKZkwkUk7vRuFEGaxAuwbf9OlnjVvbgwNC_To-HOlQEek8a

La Linterna: Also has a decent house salad with ham and pecans.vHOkB8A2EZov8WNDXSVNVW-GQiKO0F7QtiFWJG66dbkiRrWmcvWrZyp-N2zLKyhdA8mVscF4i1N1ZcLKOn0aNMzMtSsFJ12puZkkGGOiBXjJ7XDbrSo0LN5N1Tq0jhqbsQe1vBsVfQkqQBmIVGtMpa1dG-9lZ_xTw6APva1avEcMT3KjPHj3ZdrsLI

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.

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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.

 

Farmers’ Markets in Lima

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Saturdays, 9-2 (maybe slightly earlier) Bioferia de Miraflores: Parque Franscico de Miranda (formerly in Reducto No. 2 Av. Benavides) y Via Expresa. When I’m chasing the fresh organics like from Vacas Felizes, this is where I go.

Sundays, 8:30-2, Surquillo, Mercado 1.BioFeria de Surquillo. Jr. Narciso de la Colina cdra. 5. Lateral al Mercado #1 Surquillo (Ricardo Palma y Av. Paseo de la República)

Sundays, 9-2, Barranco Ecological Fair, Avenida San Martin

Sundays, 9-3, Ecoferia El Polo Green, Centro Comercial El Polo, Santiago De Surco

I’ve also heard about this one: Centro de Ventas de la Universidad Agraria
Av. La Molina s/n, La Molina, 8 a.m. a 12 m.

**** heard as of October 2018**** apparently there is a now a farmers’ market in Jockey Plaza in Surco.

And according to this website, there are others. Sadly the one in Miguel Dasso no longer exists (it’s now located in the Reducto as listed above).

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Sacred Valley Vegetables – Lettuce Never Tasted So Good!

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.IMG_1039

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.

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.