It is shockingly cheap to buy fresh produce in Italy. Eating locally and seasonally is so inexpensive that it’s practically inexcusable not to do so.
Most days, I make my way over to the outdoor market at Piazza di San Cosimato. About ten stands sell produce there every day until 1:30 p.m., but I like to go first thing in the morning while it’s sunny but not too hot. A row of more official-looking stands – a deli, a cheese shop, a fish shop, a pasta shop, a flower shop, etc. – delineates the back row of the market, and the stand that I normally go to faces this green building.
Bruno greets me with a hearty, “Buongiorno!” as he hands me a few paper bags for my shopping. I browse the crates of tomatoes, boxes of apples, trays of green beans, and careful displays of oranges, slowly circling Bruno’s stand. Colorful, fun things are on the front side, and the more mundane necessities (potatoes, various types of lettuce, onions) are tucked around back. The areas are so particularly organized that I almost feel bad as I snag a carton of strawberries, leaving an unsatisfying gap in the otherwise-unified display.
Occasionally I’ll come across something that I don’t recognize at Bruno’s stand, like broccoli romano, but most of the stock looks familiar. Much of it is imperfect. Bell peppers are mottled green and yellow, clementines still have their leaves, and carrots are grubby, but it’s ok. The Italians are much more forgiving with their food; they appreciate when something looks like it actually came off of a tree or out of the ground, and so do I.
It’s fun to watch Bruno weigh and price my big bags of healthy-looking things. He announces each item with great ceremony before placing it on the scale and punching in the price per kilo. He doesn’t even have to peek at the prices on the carefully labeled cardboard signs propped in each bin. Just by feel, he can tell if the bag is full of melanzane or melanzane lunghi, fagiolini or fagiolini locali. I don’t think he’s quite as good at telling the difference between the five varieties of oranges he sells, but I bet he’s usually right. As he totals up my purchase, I hand him my reusable shopping bag and dig for change. He compliments my bag and tosses in a handful of parsley and some fresh basil, just because it’s Monday. I do the American thing and wish him “Buona giornata!” Bruno replies, “A te. Ciao, a domani cara!”
As I walk home, I peek in my bag and examine my purchases. I try to go to the market with a general idea of what I need to get, but I keep an open mind. This has its ups and downs. Most of the time, I just get what I need, but sometimes I get caught up in the idea of eating interesting, seasonal foods. It has been a great way to try lots of new vegetables, but sometimes I forget that I just cook for one person most of the time. Last week, I was unpacking my groceries and I discovered that I had purchased a gigantic head of cauliflower at the market, just for myself. Oops.
Today, I brought home a big bag full of fava beans. They were super cheap (2 euro/kilo), but I have no idea what to do with them. I’ll probably just get a bottle of nice Chianti and see where things go from there (: