Sunday 25 February 2007

Bread and Circuses.....

Farmers' Markets always look interesting from afar, and I generally get sucked in before I remember that for the most part they are only pale imitations of what they pretend. For quite a long time, I had a Saturday morning ritual in London of Coffee, a pastry, and the FT crossword, squeezed into the little cafe at the back of Sally Clarke's - before doing the rounds of the Notting Hill Farmers' Market. It was a close enough approximation to the idea of what it was supposed to be, and there were enough good-value highlights - such as the fish stall, and the man with splendid Gressingham Ducks - that I kept on going. But, over time, I had to admit that none of the meat was very well hung, and the range of vegetables available in winter was really limited ........and it was expensive! I think the final straw was when I realised that the butter and cream in Sally Clarke's - who, let's face it, is hardly famous for being cheap - cost less than from the stall in the market. I dropped the market, there and then....and continue to be sceptical about the concept.

In Pisa, we have a Mercato Contadino once a month - on a timetable that I can never work out, and so am always taken by surprise whenever I see the stalls set up in Piazza Cairoli, down beside the Arno. This month, yesterday was the day, and as ever I couldn't resist. In practice, the stallholders always look as though they aren't died-in-the-wool contadini but have actually given up their jobs on the production line at Fiat and are now making lavender honey or turning out rather twee little breadboards as a means of escaping the rat race. And, on the basis that nothing ever changes, of course I found myself buying something that had 'exotic' written all over it. A bright yellow loaf, that I thought must be coloured from Saffron, but in fact turned out to be full of swirls of mustard powder, and dotted with lumps of rather chewy and strongly-flavoured cheese. It was......interesting... as a digestive experience; a little like consuming the entire contents of a cheese and pickle sandwich in one go, and with about the same lightness on the stomach! At eight euros a loaf, however, I don't think I'll be repeating the purchase any time soon - and it would probably be cheaper in Sally Clarke's!

Today's Menu:

Risotto of Fagiolini and Red Pepper.
Scaloppini with Crema di Noci (from the pasta shop in Vettovaglie.......excellent!)
Apple Strudel.

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