farmers market

Settling into our New Neighborhood

by admin on February 17, 2009

It took me a week but I finally got up the strength to explore our neighborhood and look for new finds. I will never give up my grocer…who by the way is Elizabeth….but I thought I should give my hood a chance. I decided to try my luck at the Market on this side of town…Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. It is a smaller version of the Mercato Centrale but the goods looked just as fresh! I have to admit…I was a bit intimidated the first time I approached the market….I knew what was ahead of me…..I wouldn’t be known so I would probably be treated with the usual disregard….but I was strong…and I was ready.

I approached the market to find dozens of produce vendors…all outside….trucks pulled to the back of the stands….filled with today’s produce….as I meandered through the crowds….evaluating the produce selections and the gentleness of the vendors ( I always choose my produce based on the nicest vendors)…I was startled….there were produce bags on the outside of the stands…I watched the people as they picked out their OWN produce and loaded their bags…

My heart sank….I just got into the groove of asking for produce….stumbling over the various Italian names….creating a repour with the vendor through our attempt to communicate…the site of the bags made the taste of the produce sour upon site. But…I was there…and I needed produce…so I would do it this one time and go back to Mercato Centrale and Elizabeth tomorrow!

I approached a woman who looked like she would be easy on me…..and pointed to the bags….she nodded and said something in Italian that included yes….a bag….you…..I’ve learned that understanding 30% of a sentence can get you by…especially if the words are accompanied with hand gestures. So, I picked up a bag and started to choose my own produce. I recited the Italian name in my head to upgrade the experience…..and then I handed her each borsa (bag)….she must have sensed my yearning for the traditional ways…as I was staring at the various lattuga…she quickly grabbed three different types…looked at me….I knodded….and she loaded my borsa…..as I said basta (which is used as “that’s it”)…she rung me up and to my surprise, I understood what I owed! To this point I just used a bill that I knew overshot what was due…saving face for my lack of understanding…..but I understood…nove cinquanta…$9.50…I handed her a $10….hoping I truly had a breakthrough….and she gave me back cinquanta cents euro….she smiled and said ciao….wow….a surprisingly easy market transition….maybe picking your own produce isn’t so bad after all.

I proceeded inside where all of the meat, cheese et al vendors are. Again, used to my other vendors I needed to stroll around to figure out what was there. My first stop was cheese….the woman put me to the test as she was not about to speak a bit of english….nor understand mine….so I stumbled over enough to get my mozzarella, parmesan cheese, olives…and panne. Toward the end of the transaction…once again….I got the cost….well she first said ventidue and I felt the deer in the headlights look taking hold…and then she said due…due…. 2 …. 2….ah….22 euro! So I cheated a bit but still made it through!

The parmesan cheese here is so different from what I have had at home…..in Florence, I always get a huge chunk….not some cleanly sliced piece ….it’s more natural…more rustic….I love watching the artisan as he carefully chisels the piece away from the rest….as if the cheese was made of glass….and then the feeling of great relief when the last push is made and the piece falls to the side…in its entirety….without a crumble……it is saturated in oil….unlike any I have seen at home…making grating seamless and the end result covering a dish with the same lightness and grace as a down comforter….hmm….all this over parmesan cheese? I think I’ve gone nuts….

Anyway…gotta run…I finished my market visit with a new butcher…..a vendor of dried beans of every type!!!…and a place that sells our favorite yogurt of all time by the bucket!!! The cows roam the Alps….not a bad gig for a cow….no wonder they set the stage for an amazing organic yogurt!

I hope you enjoy the recipes from our dinner last night. Tonight we will have a ragu….insalata….and bruschetta with tuscan white beans….look for the recipes and reviews tomorrow….now I’m off to the grocer!

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