I’ve been lucky enough to travel with our columnist and dear ele-friend Peggy Markel these last few weeks, in Morocco and Italy. This morning, over lattés at her favorite family-owned café in Florence, Cibreo, I said to her, “Peggy, it’s not that I want to open a restaurant or be a professional chef, but I want to learn to make delicious food for my family and friends. Where do I start?”
Usually, I start with a recipe in mind and then hit the internet or a cookbook, make a few tweaks, and the result is fairly decent. But Peggy took me to the market and taught me that great quality cooking starts with great quality ingredients. It’s all about how you choose your materia prima, as she (and the Italians) call it—the basic building blocks of a meal.
~ Merete Mueller
Market Lesson #1: How do I Begin?
Market Lesson #2: Do you always buy the same things? Or go with a list, or recipe in mind?
Market Lesson #3: Be Flexible and Open to Inspiration.
When we arrived at the market, we noticed that asparagus was in season. After looking at the prices and offerings of various farmers, we chose a delicate, local variety—and got a special, end-of-market price.
Local strawberries, too, turned out to be in season.
Market Lesson #4: Learn From Those Who Know Food Best, the Farmers and Producers.
With no agenda or recipes in mind, Peggy and I made our way home—each of us carrying one handle of the over-stuffed basket. Back in her kitchen, Peggy took a quick glance at the ingredients we found and put together a simple, nutritious lunch of asparagi e riso integrale con un ouva occhio di bue [wild asparagus over brown rice with an egg over easy, sprinkled with cumin, salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil].
“See,” she said, handing me a fork, “you don’t need elaborate recipes or a culinary degree to be a decent cook. You just need to keep your eyes open at the market, look for the best ingredients, and know how to improvise.”
Next lesson of Slow Cooking 101: The importance of good quality olive oil and salt.