To market, to market….

I’ve got a thing for markets.  It started many years ago with special trips to St Lawrence Market in Toronto, gawking at the dozens of vendors and displays of ingredients that I had NO idea what to do with.  Buying something different, taking it home and trying it out was great fun in those days.  On my first solo trip to Europe in 2004, I visited every market in every European city I was in, and drooled over the bounty of beautiful the things one could buy – Borough Market in London, the Cours Saleya food and flower market in Vieux Nice, San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence, rue Mouffetard market in Paris.  Years later, my very first job in London was working in the offices of London Farmers’ Markets.  A market to me is a place of wonder and excitement.  Why people choose to shop in a supermarket when they have a market nearby is absolutely crazy in my books.

We are spending this week in Paris, and for the second time this year, I have booked us into an apartment with a kitchen instead of staying in a budget hotel and eating exclusively in restaurants.  In April we took my mom with us for a week in Tuscany and were so pleased to have our Panzano “villa” to come home to at the end of long days of sightseeing.  Being able to cook the beautiful produce we saw in the amazing local markets everyday just put the icing on my holiday.  And so this week in Paris we are doing it again – but this being Paris, we have an enormous list of markets to choose from.

Yesterday we walked to Marche d’Aligre, an outdoor market in the 12th arrondissement and not far from our apartment.  This market is divided into a flea market, a large open-air produce market, and a covered market selling meat, fish, cheese and other specialty foods.  I don’t know if gritty is the right word, but this market is definitely for locals and didn’t seem to have much of a tourist draw, which was right up our alley.  We enjoyed our walk around, picked up some bits and pieces for dinner, and trolled through the piles of treasures in the flea market as most vendors began to pack up.  I was very pleased with my two purchases, adding to my ever-growing collection of odd, antique and mismatched cutlery!

This afternoon we walked to Marche Bastille, another large varied market near us in the 11th arrondissement.  Stretching over three blocks, this market is a great mix of ethnic produce vendors singing about their fruits and vegetables and their low prices, stalls filled with underwear, kitchenware, and childrenswear, alongside fishmongers, butchers, and flower stalls.  As we approached noon and our stomachs began to ache with hunger, we opted for a couple of galettes filled with meat and cheese and sat on a bench while watching the hustle and bustle of the market continue.

For dinner this evening, I concocted another version of a pasta dish that saw us through a few meals in Italy last spring, using all of the bits and pieces we had collected from our market trips these last two days.  I like to think of this version as a kind of ratatouille with added sausage, tossed with some penne pasta and garnished with some bits of your favourite cheese.

Ratatouille and Sausage Penne

This recipe is a great way to use whatever fresh vegetables catch your fancy at the market – it would be lovely with bacon instead of sausage if you preferred, or omit the meat altogether for a vegetarian dish.  Timings are all approximate here – I really don’t think you can over cook anything in this recipe, except for the pasta.  If you like your vegetables fresher, cook them a bit less than I’ve suggested.  Serves four, or two starving travellers who have walked almost 25 miles in their first two days in Paris! 

  1. In a large sauté pan, add 2 tbsp olive oil, one chopped shallot, and four fat cloves of garlic sliced.  Sauté over medium heat until shallots are soft.
  2. Add the meat from four uncooked sausages (we used Toulouse sausage with herbs today) to the pan, breaking into small nuggets, and continue to sauté over medium heat for 7-10 minutes.  If sausages are particularly lean, you might want to add a bit more olive oil to the pan to keep from sticking.  Keep breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks.
  3. Add two chopped/sliced courgettes to the sausage mixture, and sauté until courgettes are just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Then add three chopped tomatoes (we used yellow and green heirloom tomatoes, but any ripe tomatoes will do) and continue to cook on medium heat for another 5 minutes.  The longer you cook the sauce, the more the vegetables will break down, so it is really up to your taste as to how long you leave the sauce to cook – I think the longer the better, but some folks prefer their veggies with more bite!  Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, boil a large pot with salted water and cook 400 grams of penne pasta according to package directions.  When pasta is just undercooked, drain and reserve a cup of the pasta water.
  5. Toss the pasta into the sauce and turn the heat up to medium-high.  Continue tossing the pasta in the sauce, allowing everything to become well coated.  Continue adding pasta water to the sauce and allowing it to reduce slightly.  When the pasta has a glossy sheen to it, you are done.
  6. A bit of cheese is always good to add at the end here.  When I was in Italy we used parmesan.  Today I had a piece of Swiss Emmental in the fridge which I grated and tossed into the pasta right before serving.  A bit of fresh cracked pepper on top is always nice too.  Oooo, and some fresh bread from the market.  Enjoy!