I whined pitifully a few posts ago about the foods I hungered for since moving here to Puglia–foods that I had considered pantry staples back in California and could not buy here. But to give a balanced view, let me tell you about the incomparable bounty that Italy does have!
Italian cuisine is world-famous for a reason–the food is fresh, authentic, flavorful, and tastes like it is meant to taste.
One of the things that Americans visiting Italy frequently notice that the pizzas here are not laden with so many toppings of meat and cheese that they’re not even identifiable anymore. I have decided that it’s because US pizzas are inferior and all that gook on top of a pizza hides a myriad of sins, especially inferior dough crust.
But here in Italy, each ingredient is evenly and sparsely laid out so that the flavor of each comes through. No need to hide any inferior ingredient–it’s all fresh. And the crust is wonderful enough to stand alone.
One of the things I had dreamt about before moving here was the thought of shopping daily at an open market. Wouldn’t need to stock the fridge because fresh food was a day away. Why store it in the fridge when you can buy it fresh the next day?
I”m happy to report that I’m living that dream. We buy as much as we need for that day or the next, comfortable in the thought that we’ll have more goodies to choose from at our next market adventure.
The peppers…whether bell peppers or curly green peppers…glossy, crunchy, fresh from the fields.
The tomatoes? They weren’t the little red and round cherry tomatoes I used to get in California. These were oval and small. OHMIGOSH. The sweetest things ever. I ate a bunch raw as soon as I got home. We bought heirloom tomatoes the other day that in CA would have cost us $4/pound. At the market here we spent 80 cents for a kilogram (over 2# to a kilo). A bargain, right? And again, beautiful to look at and even better to eat. I made my husband a caprese salad with these heirloom tomatoes and some fresh mozzarella. He was a happy camper.
I saw these mounds of purple bulbs at the market and had no clue what they were. Naturally the fellow looked at me incredulously. Fresh garlic, of course! Fresh garlic? Why, it had never occurred to me that dried garlic, which is all I’ve ever seen in US grocery stores, ever was fresh! And such a beautiful purple color. I bought a bunch of stalks and even tried my hand at braiding the garlic. Not a great job, but not too too shabby. If you’ve never tasted fresh garlic (and I had not), it is so much more flavorful than the dried. And easier to peel, which is a nice little bennie.
And the bouquets and plants of basil. We bought a bunch, and the perfume filled our little cart and scented the whole house when we got home.
Since I had fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, fresh basil, you know what I had to do: make a tomato salad, of course! We scarfed it down in a few minutes.
The lemons are the size of grapefruits back in the US, dense, full of juice, and sweet tangy. We buy a couple of kilos, and my husband makes fresh lemonade, I retain a little juice for flavoring baked goods, and I scrape the lemon zest for flavoring foods, too. The lemons are so huge and so juicy that yesterday, four of the lemons produced a half gallon of lemonade. Perfect for these hot summer days. Nothing like fresh squeezed, homemade lemonade.
Ohboy, let me tell you about the watermelon. It reminds me of how watermelon tasted when I was a kid: juicy sweet, flavorful, and refreshing. Yesterday we bought a gigantic whole watermelon at the market for one euro. Yup, one euro. I was a little suspicious, I confess. I asked him, ‘sweet?’ Si, si. Well, for one euro, we figured we’d go for it but didn’t have high expectations. Is there such a thing as Watermelon Nirvana because we were in it! Yes, we have finished off that whole watermelon, so tomorrow we will hurry to the market and hope that he has more of them. I dread the end of watermelon season.
And that’s the thing: you buy foods in season. I remember when that used to be the case in the US, too, that you bought foods in season. But then the convenience of having a zucchini out of season took precedence over a zucchini in seasonal freshness.
Ok, so I miss my corn on the cob (have not seen it yet), but I have yet to tire of roasted peppers and zucchini that had been picked that morning. Mushrooms still have the dirt on their stems as if they’d been plucked and rushed to market.
Cheese is a specialty here in Puglia. My husband has ‘discovered’ burrata–unique to this region. It’s stretched mozzarella and cream stuffed into a pocket of more mozzarella. Cheese and cheese! He loved it.
Even back in CA, my husband and I seldom ate processed foods. He’s always been big on organic foods with little or no processing. I’ve enjoyed cooking from scratch. But here it is quite easy to avoid processed foods entirely. An unexpected benefit is that we’re healthier and are told we look younger than when we first moved here. I’m serious.
I am constantly reminded, when I partake of this fresh bounty, how much we have sacrificed flavor for convenience back in CA. While there is a movement in the US for ‘farm to table’ produce, Italians don’t have to create a movement for that: it’s been their way of eating for centuries.