March 3, 2007

Market to Table- Certaldo- Concetta's Pasta

During the week, I teach cooking downtown Florence using the Central Market, San Lorenzo, as my base. Inspired by the seasonal ingredients, I lead my students into the secrets of Tuscan recipes and lifestyle.

I call myself an Italian life coach.

It is not easy to learn how to be Italian. I made lots of mistakes at first, as all newbies do.
Quickly corrected by all those around me, I now pass-on what I have learned.
Recipes are only part of it!
But since I teach cooking, that is where I begin.
Never drink cappucino after you have had your first class of wine
Never put cheese on pasta with fish or spicy sauce
Never drink milk if you have a cold
Never walk around with wet hair
Never touch the fruit or vegetables in a market... unless you see everyone doing it!

But when I am off, it is the market that teaches me lessons I pass on to my students.
The weekly market in a town, is not just for buying food, but for catching up

Today we went to the village market in Certaldo. It is rather small, a few fruit and vegetable vendors and one fish vendor.

I have adopted Francesca as one of MY vendors, loving her recipes so much. She also sells what she grows instead of just reselling from the larger wholesale market. I can take notes on what is in season, by just looking at her baskets, laden with what, hours before, was in the ground.

Today her dad was there with her. What a character.

I asked if I could take dad's fotograph after I had shopped and he broke into conversation, letting me know he was from Trapani, Sicily and brought Francesca to Certaldo when she was only 16 months old.
Now I need to get invited to the farm!

Their stand laden with fabulous salad greens, a rare radicchio with tiny thin leaves another light green looking like a rose, tiny baby wild kale and new red onions so thin we eat them raw, dipped in extra virgin oil and sea salt.

My friend Kate in France and I often find ourselves blogging about the same things at the same time. When one is really in-sync with the seasons and our adopted families at the markets, it happens.

In her market blog today, Kate wrote about the economics of the market. I had not begun to blog, as I was already in the kitchen with my huge bunches of what I believe to be turnips which I also could not turn down at the incredible price of 1 Euro!

As I was leaving the market, I spotted a small Ape, the typical three wheeled truck most of the older men drive in the countryside, filled with small baskets of veggies.

The owner of the truck was chit-chatting with his friends and I had to drag him away to ask about the turnips.

He quickly saw a sale, and grabbed a huge bunch, tied together with the thin branches of the young scotch broom plants. The one large bunch I wanted then became three bunches.
Too much, I protested! But for 1 euro…. Let it be!

He gave me recipes how to prepare them, “peel the “ beets,” as he called them, like a potato and boil them.”

“Don’t throw away the greens, boil them too and then sauté in olive oil together.”

And so I did.
Lunch tomorrow will include Roberto’s twice cooked turnip green’s and I will oven roast the turnips I boiled today to give them a crisp outside crust.

As I was shopping I also ran into Metello, the man who sold me the “fixer-upper” we bought here in the hills outside Certaldo. Retired from his own business of producing shoes and belts, a man to not rest, when he is not tending to his vineyards or olive orchards, he cna be found painting in his studio near my house.
I am always surprised to find out about the secret life's of friends!

He always wants to know what I am making for lunch and what I teach. Then he procedes to give me a recipe that he wants me to teach. Recipes have been passed on by word of mouth, never written down for generations. As the newer generations seem to lean towards fast food and frozen food I have taken it upon myself to write down all the recipes people tell me.
This is the school of life!

Today’s lesson is:
Nonna Concetta’s Egg Spaghetti

Concetta Vincanelli lived in the house that I now live in.
I hope she approves of how it turned out

Per person:
1 hard boiled egg (needless to say in the countryside, they have their own free range chickens which eat corn and have a fabulous rich yellow yolk with flavor!)

80 grams of thick spaghetti ( about 2 1/2 ounces) this is a typical portion for a first course, but with this pasta I had a hard time finishing mine.

QB ( quanto basta, or as much as you need) Salt & Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil ( the best you can afford)

Cook the spaghetti in salted water. This gives it more flavor.
Thick spaghetti takes about 10 minutes, and is more filling than the thinner cappellini.

Take the hard boiled egg from the shell, and slice it into a serving bowl.

Break the egg up with a fork and add salt, pepper and olive oil until it forms a cream.

Drain the spaghetti and add to the boil with the egg and toss until the pasta is covered with the egg sauce.
If it seems to dry, add a little more oil.
( Never shake all of the water off your pasta as it acts as part of all sauces).

Do not serve with cheese. ( one of the biggest life lessons in all of Italy is which pasta sauces you use cheese with and which it is forbidden!)

You can add some more black pepper on top.

This is a poor man’s carbonara to me but with cooked eggs instead of raw.

I love egg salad sandwiches, and stuffed hard boiled eggs.
If I wanted to make this richer, I would add some capers as I do to my stuffed hard boiled eggs, or even pancetta like for the carbonara.

When pork products and cheese were precious commodities, they did without. The people who work the land where I live all remember the war and what it was like to not have food, and treat all the food they produce with respect.

Grazie mille, Metello, Francesca and Roberto.
School was never this much fun!


  1. Sometimes I think Certaldo and Ste.Colombe are on an invisible latitude- the food latitudes. Keep writing these home grown recipes down and making me hungry for Tuscany... in Gascony. those are about the most beautiful turnips I've seen!

  2. I SO enjoyed traveling to Italy via your blog--thanks so much for posting out here on the world-wide-web for us to share!
    My family is from Italy a coupla generations ago...I must visit someday.
    I'm looking forward to keeping up with your blog!


  3. this sounds delicious! i was planning to make carbonara tonight for dinner.

  4. Carbonara is my favorite BACON AND EGGS

  5. I love the "poor man's" carboniara - I have used that sauce on asparagus and never on pasta. Well, it's about time. How wonderful to have people pass their family recipes to you.

  6. How lovely! I am living vicariously through your posts and blogs. Grazie mille!