Andria rainy street

Al mercato

Drop me into any town in Italy and if there’s a market to be found, my instincts draw me to it. One clue I look for: little old ladies overburdened with plastic shopping bags. Follow in the direction from which they’re coming and bingo–there’s a market.

Like these cardoncelli mushrooms, supposedly collected from the fields of the Murgia, the rolling upland west of Bari, though I suspect these may have been cultivated. Still, they’re grubby enough with soil to be foraged in the wild.

Actually, markets are getting slimmer on the ground in northern Italy with ever greater spaces devoted to cheap plastic housewares, mostly made in China, and cheap clothing, ditto. Food stalls take up less and less space. I’ve watched the Cortona market over the years dwindle to a mere handful of fruit and vegetable dealers, among whom I count my beloved Signora Benigni, source of many delights from her own gardens. Big cities–Florence, Venice, Milano, and of course Rome–still count some fabulous daily markets but for the small weekly markets that once were such a feature of each little town, you have to head south and count on your luck.

Andria, in northern Puglia, still boasts a daily covered market along with all the little stalls that pop up around it, some of them permanent fixtures. This is where you find what the locals like to eat.
Like these cardoncelli mushrooms, supposedly collected from the fields of the Murgia, the rolling upland west of Bari, though I suspect these may have been cultivated. Still, they’re grubby enough with soil to be foraged in the wild.

Artichokes: Puglia is famous for artichokes and now is the season for them. They’re shipped all over Italy, probably all over Europe.

carciofi Andria

cime di rape

And cima di rape, a close relative of what we call broccoli rabe or rapini,very spicy greens, full of goodness and perfect for making that classic Pugliese dish, orecchiette alla barese, the “little ears” of pasta cooked right along with the greens so they absorb lots of the delicious flavors.

lampascione

And finally, unmistakably, lampascione, the bulbs of tassel hyacinth, and these are most definitely foraged from the green hills of the Murgia. This basket was perched at the entrance to the market and the man who sold me a kilo swore he had harvested them himself. (Sceptics often claim lampascione all come from Morocco these days but I have faith in my source.) These are, like their Greek cousins voulvi, very bitter; steamed until tender, then squashed in plenty of hot olive oil, they’re usually eaten just with bread to sop up the juices–an excellent example of that old Mediterranean lust for bitter flavors, as if all of life’s sweet bitterness (bitter sweetness) were captured in a single bulb.


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