Market-Fresh: Pasta e Fagioli

October 10th, 2006 · Tags: Food · Italy · Milan · Recipe

This time it was Sante’s turn to cook. I pulled the weekend diva card (just something I use when I know I’ve accumulated a lot of washed dishes and meals thrown-together in my favor) and told him Saturday’s lunch was all on him.

That morning we went to the market a few blocks from our house. It’s quite a large market, with 4-5 booths just of fresh fish and 10-20 fresh fruit sellers, dozens of shoe sellers, clothes, household goods, etc. The row of booths makes a complete circle around a city block, so it’s a bit bigger than Pavia’s market, but not quite as big as Porta Portese in Rome and a cross between Via Sannio and Campo dei Fiori in the products that it offers. In case you want to find other street markets in Milan, a great link from the Comune’s tourism site tells location, hours, and public transportation for each market in the city (in Italian).

Our market is a place we hate to love and love to hate. When we first moved here, we got ripped off everywhere we went. Someone was always sticking an extra fennel or tomato on the scale, weighing things on the other side of the booth so you couldn’t see because “it was closer,” trying to get you to buy anything and everything, and charging us 3/kilo for bread (folks in U.S., this is insane). One time we even left a bag of groceries on accident and when we finally remembered (too late), we knew it was long gone.

It was summer, and folks were desperate. We realize that now. Also, in the summer, the number of booths is reduced quite drastically and space is filled by vendors who might usually sell elsewhere or not at all. Other booths are “rented out” by the owners to mainly immigrants who probably are doing everything they can to make a cut while the boss is gone or with the space they have available.

We must have sworn off the market two or three times in August.

When September came, the market was once again bursting at the seams and abundant with fresh produce, twice the selection and double the vendors present. Fruit looked shinier, sellers seemed friendlier. Each booth’s display looked well cared for and as if it had taken hours. One man even went so far as to write us a receipt! They usually don’t bother with this at the fruit/veggie sellers.

So this time Sante wanted borlotti beans – the same beans my mother-in-law bought while in Venice. We got a kilo but after the shucking there were still too many for just our pasta. I ended up using the leftover beans in a salad the next day.

I really like the beautiful colors of the pods. I read that the borlotti beans are also similar to the American “cranberry bean” which I believe is a name gone very wrong. I thought they might be similar to the pinto bean since the coloring is similar but I stand corrected.

Borlotti pods

The beans are as colorful as the pods and were really easy to shuck.

Borlotti Beans inside the pod

The finished product! Lots of Pugliese olive oil from Sante’s house and hot pepper to give it a bit of kick. This is definitely Italian comfort food. There’s really no recipe – you cook the beans in little water until tender (about 30 minutes if fresh). We added some garlic and a bit of oil at the beginning so it soaked those up to start off. Usually this is served with “short” pasta but we only had spaghett in on hand so that’s what we used.

Pasta e Fagioli

After reflecting on our experiences at the market, I decided it wasn’t really their fault. Part of it was that I wasn’t doing my job as the consumer. I wasn’t prepared. I let the waxy-looking fruit displays and mass of people overwhelm and daze me. In a different situation, you wouldn’t have to worry, maybe in a large store where the people aren’t motivated to sell or aren’t rewarded on their sales take. But at the market, these people are ambitious, motivated, and hungry. Can you blame them for wanting to make an extra buck?

I decided that we would have to do our part from now on when going to the market. And I thought of a few things that I recommend for anyone visiting a market:

  • Always order in kilos and half kilos. This way you always know the exact price of what you’re getting. Ordering “two tomatoes” or “one fennel” or “some” of grapes is asking to get overcharged.
  • As an addendum to the above, always know what the price per kilo is. It should be written clearly.
  • If the line is long, pre-calculate your total while you wait.
  • If there’s no price listed (many veggies, staples like lettuce, are in the back piled up without prices), ask instead of assuming it’s going to be cheaper than the supermarket (this is not always true!).
  • Observe how he’s treating the customers in front of you. Is he being clear while weighing the products or communicating price?
  • Consider asking for a receipt if you feel you’re being overcharged. Many booths are not equipped for this, though, but they should be able to write out what they gave you. Don’t be afraid to ask them to price out the items individually instead of accepting when they say at the end, “5.50.”
  • Don’t be afraid to point out exactly which apples you want, or refuse the picks that the vendor gets for you. They know their product very well, and usually the freshest and best looking are up front where the passerby can see them. The vendor instead takes from a “closer” pile which is usually the product that is closer to expiring. Sometimes when it seems the vendor is handling your product with such “care,” it really means that the product if handled badly will immediately ruin so they handle it very carefully until it’s in the bag.

Anyone else have a good market rule to add?

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3 Comments

3 responses so far ↓

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  • 1
    rowena // Oct 10, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    Those bean…especially that 2nd pic…look like gems lined up in a jewelry box. Amazing the kind of stuff that you can find here. So much to experiment with, and not enough time to get to them all.

    RYC: Whoops, sorry about the early food post ;-). Should’ve atleast started with an antipasto, no?

  • 2
    antonella // Oct 10, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Pasta with beans: Don’t you love how Italians will pair a starch with a….starch? :-)

    No short pasta on hand: How can that happen? I mean, here in the states my cupboard has every size & shape pasta you’d want. But then I remembered Italian kitchens aren’t that big. So you are forgiven. Besides, pasta is pasta. It’s all good.

    Market tips: Say please and thank you? Courtesy goes a long way. Going to the same vendor and developing a relationship seems to work for Melinda G. But if they aim to rip you off, you’ll get ripped off.

  • 3
    Jay // Oct 11, 2006 at 12:40 am

    Tips:

    1)Whenever down at the Farmers Market on a Wednesday night in Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA hang close to the flower stand for optimal observance of some of the most beautiful women in San Diego.

    2)Always try to hit The Sunshine Company right at 5pm, order two half-off pitchers of their finest draught and get a seat near the window facing Newport Blvd.

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