We have started calling it “Saturday Lunch” because we eat it every Saturday. It consists of a crispy rotisserie chicken smelling of rosemary and roasted meat, shiny with oil, and a robust bruschetta – a bowl of bright, chopped tomatoes and aggressive hunks of garlic. Saturday is market day in Barga and tents are set up all over the main drag. You can buy shoes, jeans, toys, fish, chicken, fruits, vegetables, soaps and flowers. You can stand there and ogle the huge wheels of fresh cheese. Last weekend Amelia even bought a tiara. The boy at the toy tent sees me coming each week and assures me a “special price” every time.
On market day, Italian women of a certain age can be found lingering over the produce, discussing the color of the peaches and clucking about the price of strawberries. They’ll spend all day there, maybe not even buying anything, and no one will think it’s odd.
I love to cook and I love to eat, but after a couple months in Italy, it’s obvious I know nothing about food. Most of us Americans are doing it wrong – all of it.
The first time I tried to buy tomatoes, I told the grandmotherly-looking woman with the puff of white hair that I was planning to make bruschetta.
“Brava,” she said encouragingly, and then she took the tomatoes I was holding out of my hands, shaking her head and muttering something while she smiled at me. She filled a bag with San Marzano tomatoes instead – a different vegetable (fruit?) altogether, and I haven’t made the same mistake since.
Antonio, at the fruit and vegetable shop closest to my house, always follows me around his store, waiting to correct me. I almost bought a not-quite-ripe melon and he said “no, no, no,” showing me how to smell it and what color skin to look for. He won’t let me buy garlic that doesn’t have a reddish/purple hue on the papery skin. It’s a power struggle I’m happy to lose.
I have been scolded for eating bread with my pasta (too much starch in one course) and shamed into never, ever ordering a cappuccino past noon. After a dinner out with a good friend, I said a polite “no thank you” to the coffee that was offered and he looked at me like I was completely insane. He ordered me one anyway, and after I slurped down the bitter, sugary espresso, I was glad he did.
I appreciate the Italian willingness to save me from myself. And I’m learning to cook – really cook. I have perfected an outstanding sausage and peppers that would impress even my father, who has been making the dish for decades:
I have also learned to stir chicken and onions into vinegar and which pastas are right with which sauces. Tip: don’t do a large pork-filled ravioli with pesto. One day I’ll figure out what to do with the irresistible spread of salted cod I saw at the market just this morning.
Eat well, friends.