Yes, buy that $6 vegetable


Some people have the beach.  Others have a mountain trail. A place to collect their thoughts. A place to walk away from everyday hassles and senseless chatter. In this place the mind quiets, the senses open and peace enters the soul.

Castel Franco radicchio

Castel Franco radicchio

Foodies have similar places. Gourmet grocery stores. Out of the way shops which feature the local and the inventive. Or hole-in-the-wall restaurants with no street sign. These are places of safety and comfort.  And they are also places to start trouble.

Central Market in Austin has been luring this foodie into its doors for a decade. Their buyers are restless. Despite a variety of foodstuffs that matches the diversity of the Library of Congress, they continue to surface novelties. It’s the kind of place where if they don’t have it, you don’t want it.

Castel Franco on the shelf of Central Market

Castel Franco on the shelf of Central Market

On a stroll through the produce section one innocent afternoon, a speckled specimen turned my head.  It’s austere, tightly packed white leaves were sprayed with candy-apple red flecks. Like some bastard child of cabbage and endive. Smaller than radicchio. About the size of a softball.

The produce department laid this vegetable right next to the radicchio and stemmed carrots. The sign above it read Castel Franco Lettuce. $5.99 per piece. Then Dirty Harry whispered. “Go ahead, make my day. You’ve spent at least that on Bibb or Frisee”

Six bucks for mutant lettuce. Ok. I’ll bite.

As it turns out, Castelfranco is a town in the Northern part of Italy.  It lies in the shadows of the Alps. The fortress was built in 1195 in response to the tension with Padua.

The origins of the vegetable date to the 800’s. It’s a crossbreed between escarole and radicchio Trevisano. Treviso is the name of the provence where Castelfranco sits.

None of this informs us how to prepare or eat the damn thing.  In fact, looking for this information never came to mind when vegetable landed in the basket or on the cutting board. Nope.  We were going on survivor mode.

Castel Franco radicchio with the stem cut off

Castel Franco radicchio with the stem cut off

First step is to remove the stem. This reveals a tightly compact array of leaves which grew in a spiral. With a little bit of effort, we might find the Fibonacci principle at play as evident in so much vegetation. Yet we are not looking for mathematical patterns in produce.  We are plunged in an adventure.

Castel Franco radicchio leaves washed and separated

Castel Franco radicchio leaves washed and separated

Peeling leaves apart is similar to folding laundry.  Newly dried clothes find themselves in a tangle held together by static electricity. The Castel Franco leaves hug each other tightly, afraid to leave the group.

On the tongue, bitterness pops.  The vegetable sasses back. It may be called the Edible Flower.  However it’s all radicchio in its attitude. Go ahead call me pretty one more frickin’ time!

Salad of Castel Franco, raspberry, candied pecans and basil

Salad of Castel Franco, raspberry, candied pecans and basil

We took this tomboy to school. Dressed her with unfiltered olive oil as green as Summer grass. 18 year old balsamic. Surrounded her with candied pecans and basil leaves. Then put on a bonnet of fresh raspberries and sent her off to Sunday school.

Sweetness with a touch of sour tames the crunchy bitter. Basil and olive oil add herbal dimensions. Cracked pepper spices up the conversation.

No recipe.  No trail map.  Just a bitter, six dollar lettuce and some ingenuity.

The invocation today is to throw yourself into the unfamiliar. Because it is unfamiliar. Stop trying to be a problem solver. Create the maze and jump in. Toss aside certainty.

It is in these moments where we become our best selves. Ask Chuck Close.

Worst case, you lose six dollars.  It’s not like you spent six dollars on a venti, vanilla, half-caff, skinny latte. Oh wait…

I think while appropriation has produced some interesting work … for me, the most interesting thing is to back yourself into your own corner where no one else’s answers will fit. You will somehow have to come up with your own personal solutions to this problem that you have set for yourself because no one else’s answers are applicable.

[…]

See, I think our whole society is much too problem-solving oriented. It is far more interesting to [participate in] ‘problem creation’ … You know, ask yourself an interesting enough question and your attempt to find a tailor-made solution to that question will push you to a place where, pretty soon, you’ll find yourself all by your lonesome — which I think is a more interesting place to be.

–Chuck Close (via Brain Pickings)

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