The “activities” on my Facebook profile are pretty accurate. I really do enjoy melting cheese on things, experimenting with my pressure cooker, riding my bicycle along the Charles and exploring international grocery stores. Of course, when you’re in another country, every grocery store is an international one, and on our trip I made a point of wandering through markets both famous and quotidian.
La Boqueria in Barcelona has existed in some form since the 13th century, first as a meat market.
Today, vendors still sell meat — everything from pigs’ heads, to hanging charcuterie — but alongside a kaleidoscope of fresh produce, eggs, spices, cheeses, fish, nuts, chocolate and sweets.
La Boqueria is frequented by Barcelona residents, but it’s very touristed as well. In order to see how the natives shopped everyday, we popped into the French grocery store chain Carrefour, three storefronts down Las Ramblas. The refrigerator cases were nowhere near as photogenic, but I got a kick out of the juice boxes of gazpacho and mass-produced Spanish Easter cake offerings.
Although it wasn’t our intention, our visit to medieval Bruges coincided with the town’s weekly market, where local villagers shop for their produce, cheeses, meats, candies and plants.
I’ll be quite honest and say that I was not enamored by this quaint, Flemish, walled city. My advice is to rent In Bruges; at least some shots in the film that weren’t overrun with tourists. Despite the entire town being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the place feels Disney-fied.
Many of the buildings have been almost too well-restored, as if they exist solely to serve as a backdrop for pictures taken by thousands of tourists who swarm the main square daily to see the belfry and take a canal ride. Rich and I much preferred Antwerp, where medieval castles are integrated into a working city of half a million.
My musings on the authenticity of Bruges extended to the produce at the weekly market in the town square. We Americans have an idealized notion of the European market, but I couldn’t help but wonder what Michael Pollan would think of the pallets of Driscoll’s strawberries, straight from the farm… in California.
As in Spain, my market visits in The Netherlands weren’t limited to the photogenic public markets. In Rotterdam we stopped at Albert Heijn, a chain supermarket, to buy provisions for our picnic among the flowers. I enjoyed browsing the jars of pickled vegetables, the prepared salads, the mass-produced chocolate and confections (think Cardullo’s), the cheese case and the deli. (Rich, meanwhile, was agog at the baseline quality of Dutch supermarket beer.)
It turns out the Europeans also like convenience, and the produce section had an entire wall of pre-peeled boiled potatoes and beets, a la Trader Joe’s. I was surprised to see that bagged lettuce is not just an American phenomenon. The Dutch also enjoy that convenience, albeit with their own twist; there you can buy curly-cues of pre-cut, pre-washed Belgian endive.
Our first night in Rotterdam, our hosts served us stampot, a mash of potatoes and endive so common that the recipe is on the back of the bag. It was delicious, especially with the garlic and shallots our friends added to spice up the typically bland Dutch fare. But I had another dish on my mind. “If I could get this at Star Market, there is a salad I would eat every day,” I said dreamily to my hosts. Well, I’ve been back just a few weeks, and although I’ve had to chop my own endive, I’ve already enjoyed this salad three times. And now I share it with you.
Endive Salad with Radish, Crumbled Egg and Anchovy Vinaigrette
Ingredients for Salad
5 heads of endive, cut into 1/4 rounds
6 radishes, thinly sliced
1 hard-boiled egg
A few notes: Sometimes a head of endive is a good four inches thick, sometimes it’s barely two. Last week I was able to produce a salad with five heads of endive that fed four comfortably, but the four heads I had on Friday night barely filled one salad plate. I’ve seen very good prices at Market Basket, but it really does vary from week to week and store to store. If you’re unhappy with what you’ve found, this recipe will also work very well with escarole.
To prepare the endive, peel off the first layer of bitter leaves. With a sharp knife, cut half-moons approximately 1/4 inch thick. Stop when you get to full moons; these rounder pieces are very very bitter.
Place half-moons on an appropriately-sized serving platter, followed by the thin discs of radish. I prefer adding the vinaigrette at this stage, then topping off the salad with a hard boiled egg that I’ve simply crumbled with my hands. Then, if I’m feeling it, I drizzle some more dressing on top of the egg.
In a small jar, shake together:
3 anchovies, minced
About 2 cloves of garlic, minced
Scant teaspoon of mustard — I use mustard sparingly in my dressings, as I’m not a big fan of the flavor, but it does such a good job emulsifying things. If you like mustard, add more; I’m sure it will taste delicious.
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6-7 tablespoons olive oil
The vinegar-to-oil ratio is entirely up to you. As I’ve admitted in the past, I love tart things, so I enjoy a little pucker, but I know that’s not the case for most people. I’ve left salt off the ingredients because many people will find the anchovies salty enough, but definitely season to your taste.
Bonus Recipe: I recently came across this anchovy vinaigrette from Rendezvous in Central Square, Cambridge. If you’ve got the ingredients in the house, I say go for it. I’ll freely admit to wanting to drink this straight from the bowl.