The Lesson of the Castelfranco Lettuce

 

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I have the great privilege of spending a lot of time in Italy where I shop every day for food as do many of the locals. What at home would be a chore, there seems to be effortless  because, although there is a perfectly good seven day a week supermarket, the fruit and vegetables are noticeably more delicious if I go to the fruit and vegetable shop. Not surprisingly there is always a huddle of customers around this excellent fruit stall and that means a lot of talk. It is a very good place to improve my halting Italian, to learn new words and find out what other people are eating for dinner. 

The ladies at the fruit and veg stall are gradually re-educating me about seasonality and ripeness. They shake their heads and wag their fingers when I expect to buy my favourite Castelfranco lettuce, which was so delicious in December, again in June. ‘It is a Winter lettuce,’ they scold gently. Chastened, I begin to realise how far my expectations have been distorted by the year round importation of produce that I am used to at home. In Italy I rediscover the joy of limited availability and surprise. Just as things may be unavailable, suddenly things arrive. ’Today,’ they tell me proudly, ‘we have burrata’. That means the delicious variation on mozzarella has arrived from the man who makes it. They certainly don’t have it every day. It also means I am not tempted to eat it every day but can really relish the treat when it arrives out of the blue.

And it’s not just about seasonality. In this little shop when I buy a peach they want to know whether it is for breakfast or for dinner, today or tomorrow, so sensitive are they to the ideal ripeness of the fruit. They are prepared to say ‘no’ when what they have in stock isn’t ready to eat. That is respect for the food. Although tourists are thronging here (as everywhere) in August, they still shut for a proper lunch break, turning people away to do so. That is self-respect.

If you can shop little and often you can also listen to you body. What do I fancy today? What does my body need today? The food is likely to be fresher. You avoid waste when things go off before you can get to them. Listening to ourselves means opening our hearts to ourselves and as we do so we inevitably get in the flow of our beautiful planet. My feeling is that this is a recipe for a more satisfying and sustainable way of living and eating.

However!  We cant all shop every day from charming Italian fruit stalls. There may be financial constraints (you need the three for two offers of the big supermarkets) and there may be time constraints (you are already supposed to be in three places at once). But maybe there is a viable compromise that is loving and respectful for you? Maybe you can enjoy the market or the daily shop when you’re on holiday or at weekends. Maybe you like to buy your vegetables or your cheese or your meat somewhere special even though 99 per cent of everything is delivered once a week. Back in England, like many people, I have a weekly delivery of groceries but there is a local cheese shop where I love to buy our cheese and I like to make my own bread and jam whenever I can. That feels like a solid foundation to my diet although most of what I eat in England, maybe like you, is supermarket food.

Love and respect for your body and for the food you nourish yourself with are like a virtuous circle. Let go of what you can’t do and enjoy what you can. Today’s recipe is for :

Grilled Castelfranco 

Castelfranco, the edible flower, is a mild kind of radicchio and although I love the raw bitterness of these leaves in a salad, they are also astonishingly delicious cooked. Chop your castelfranco (or red chicory or radicchio) into chunks and brush with olive oil before roasting briefly in a hot oven (if you already have the oven on) or popping under a hot grill for five or ten minutes.

You will find it is much milder cooked and delicious with bacon, roasted meat, anchovies, cheese or sweet figs. Great starter, accompaniment or lunch.

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