In the States, when talking about trying to get people to eat more vegetables, the debate often turns to the fact that vegetables are hard to prepare. That when faced with something like an artichoke, asparagus or even a head of lettuce, many Americans can’t be bothered to clean, trim and cook.
The processed alternative is to buy a bag of pre-washed lettuce, ‘mini’ carrots or frozen spinach. But these ‘vegetables’, which have been prepped in huge factories, long after they have been picked, have about as much flavor as a shoe insert. It’s no wonder that many say they don’t like them.
Which is why I’m so happy/lucky to live in Italy. Yes. I’m as lazy as the next person. Come meal time, it’s not as if I always have the time/energy/patience to pod 3 kilos of peas, trim a dozen artichokes or – I admit it – even peel a carrot.
The great thing is that I don’t have to.
Vegetable vendors in Italy are only too happy to do the dirty work for you. Go to any open air market, or even a local vegetable store, and you’ll see baskets of trimmed and washed greens, bags of cipolline onions or even mixes for salad and minestrone. All prepared daily by the vendors themselves.
I wandered through the Campo de’ Fiori market the other day. Although the number of vegetable stands has decreased over the last few years, the stands that still sell produce do much of their business in prepared, cleaned and ready-to-cook veggies.
My favorites are the mixes. Each stand has its own spins on minestrone and salad, which change with the season. Pumpkin is sold in large wedges, so you can buy just what you need. Beans are freshly podded, green beans trimmed and bagged, ready for steaming. Even wild chicory is neatly trimmed of it’s dirty roots, so all you have to do is give it a rinse before cooking.
Watching the vendors clean the vegetables is also a nifty and free culinary lesson. Stop by any morning, and you’ll see men and women sitting next to piles of produce, trimming away with plastic-handled, dull-looking knives. Some wear gloves, but most have hands weathered and cut by decades of nipping and cutting.
Just in case you can’t stop by Campo to pick up a bag of trimmed artichokes, I’ve included a little video so (in theory) you can do it yourself. You may have to watch it a few times to get the hang of it. Or just go ahead and make a trip to Rome.
Campo de’ Fiori Market
Open Monday – Saturday, 8am-1:30pm