By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Originally appeared in the June 2019 Sensi Denver magazine: sensimag.com/2019/05/31/200930/sensi-magazine-june-2019-denver-boulder-digital-edition)
Walking through the Boulder Farmers Market with Antonio Laudisio is a little like shopping for paints with Vincent Van Gogh. You’re not just going to grab a tube of cobalt blue and go home. The goods guide you, not vice versa.
“Look at that! That spinach is beautiful” says Laudisio.
“I would take it and add farm eggs and make a frittata,” he says.
Laudisio notices crusty baguettes at a nearby booth.
“You could cut those in half and toast them. Cook the spinach in olive oil with a little lemon juice and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. You put that over the bread with Parmigiano, and there’s no way you don’t want to eat it,” he says.
Laudisio is looking for ingredients to top the pizzas at his market food booth. On a sunny Saturday morning, half the strolling shoppers seem to know and greet him.
With his curled white moustache, Brooklyn-tinged accent and tendency to talk with his hands, Antonio Laudisio is a market icon. Talk to him about his life and he legitimately name drops Al Capone, Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro. He has stories to tell.
With his brothers Raimondo and Leonardo, Antonio introduced generations of Boulder-Denver diners to simple, authentic Italian cuisine beyond spaghetti and meatballs at Ristorante Laudisio from 1989 to 2013. At 78, he co-owns The Mediterranean Restaurant and operates a catering business using the portable wood-burning ovens he built by hand.
Colorado’s first farmer-run market opened in Boulder was inspired in part by markets Laudisio had seen throughout Italy. “In Italy there’s no farmers market. It’s just the market. It’s a way of life. Nobody would ask chefs how to cook things. Everyone who sold at the market will tell you how to clean a vegetable and cook it,” he says.
Less is More When Cooking Market Bounty
According to Antonio Laudisio, you’ve got to elbow your way in to see, touch and smell the produce and ask questions. Taste the greens. Getting the most out of a farmers’ market means treating it like a contact sport.
As he walks through the farmers market, every fresh ingredient leads to a story, a recipe or a cautionary tale.
“Less is more when you start with great stuff. Those young radish greens are so good and spicy. They don’t need to be cooked, just add them raw to a salad,” he says.
Perfect baby potatoes came into view. “Boil them just a little while, then roast them with rosemary in a mix of 40 percent butter and 60 percent oil so they don’t burn,” Laudisio says.
I ask him how he would cook exotic fresh mushrooms. “I wouldn’t. You slice the royal trumpet mushrooms razor thin and toss with some cremini mushrooms in a salad with salt, pepper and a simple dressing with fresh parsley,” he says.
Asparagus should be simply steamed and served with poached eggs on top, he said, noting that this is exactly what he feeds his own family. “My daughter said: ‘How do you make them taste so good?’ I just pick good ones and then leave them alone,” Laudisio says.
Tracking Down the Italian Pantry Goods
To cook like Laudisio you need to have certain basics on hand. Not the cheap stuff – you have to invest in the good stuff like Parmigiano-Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, capers and prosciutto. (For essential Italian pantry items to have on hand, see the pantry list.)
You can find some of these ingredients at many supermarkets, but along the Front Range you’ll find the real thing – markets and delis run by multi-generational Italian families reflecting the strong Italian immigrant heritage of Colorado.
Take a farmers’ market road trip this summer and stop at Spinelli’s Market in Denver, Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market and Italian Deli in Lakewood, Mollica’s Italian Market and Deli in Colorado Springs and the state’s ultimate Italian family store, Gagliano’s Italian Market in Pueblo.
This is where you’ll find imported grocery items – your Torrone nougat, Stella D’oro anisette toasts and Centro canned tomatoes. They often make their own sausage sold wrapped in white butcher paper, bake cookies, sell “grinders” – hot sandwiches – and offer take-home entrees like lasagna big enough to feed the family.
Finding a Farmer’s Market to Call Home
Colorado’s cache of farmers’ markets has grown each year and markets can be found in towns from Fort Collins to Trinidad, but all markets are not all the same. Antonio Laudisio said that the only “real” farmers markets are those run by the growers themselves that generally sell only what they grow with the exception of Western Slope fruit. In other words, no pineapples. The prepared food vendors are also always local businesses, not chains.
Farmers’ market and ethnic market foods are sometimes perceived as being overpriced compared to supermarket, but deliver great family values. The heirloom and organic varieties that are unavailable elsewhere, and generally fresher and better tasting. Pointing your dollars that way supports family farmers, sustainability, a viable local economy and the larger community.
Italians say: “La famiglia sopra tutto.” However you define yours, family is the most important thing in the world.
Hold the garlic!
My final Boulder Farmers Market stop with Antonio Laudisio is near a charcuterie stand which prompts thoughts of cooking with cured meats for quick dinner. “For a vegetable like broccoli raab, first you cut up the stems and poach them until they’re just tender. Start with one clove of crushed garlic in extra virgin olive oil in a pan and add sliced summer sausage. Put in the poached stems and broccoli raab tops … and al dente penne if you like,” he says.
Knowing the question would irk him, I wonder aloud: “Why so little garlic?”
“What they’ve done with garlic in America is just terrible. You have peel fresh garlic just before you use it. I know because I used to have to peel bushels of it at my family’s restaurant in Miami. Now, you get bins of peeled garlic and a lot of it is rancid. It’s too easy to use too much,” Laudisio says.
“You’ve got to respect the ingredients.”
John Lehndorff is the grandson of a Sicilian grocer and sausage maker, Michael Mazzola. John hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. Podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles
Find a Farmers’ Market
The Boulder Farmers Market is Colorado’s top local farmer-run operation with markets on various days of the week from spring through fall in Boulder, Longmont, Denver and Lafayette. Only locally grown vegetables and foods are available at the Colorado Farm and Art Market in Colorado Springs and other markets listed below. There are also many individual farm stands like Pantaleo Farms in Vinland near Pueblo. Besides fresh vegetables, the stand sells housemade chile sausage and roasts its green chilies with garlic heads in the fall for an aromatic treat.
Boulder: 8 a,m,-2 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday on 13th Street between Canyon Blvd and Arapahoe Ave. bcfm.org
Longmont: 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday, Boulder County Fairgrounds
Denver: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Union Station.
Lafayette: 4-8 p.m. Thursday, 400 E. Simpson St.
Colorado Farm and Art Market, 3-7 p.m. Wednesday, Colorado Springs Pioneer’s Museum, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Margarita at Pine Creek. farmandartmarket.com
Old Colorado City Farmers Market, 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Bancroft Park. pikespeakfarmersmarket.com
Pueblo: El Pueblo Farmers Market, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, El Pueblo History Museum
(To find farmers’ markets: coloradofarmers.org/find-markets.)
A Midsummer Night’s Pasta Dish
Here is Antonio Laudisio’s recipe for Spaghetti with Eggs from “La Famiglia Laudisio: The Cookbook.”
1 pound spaghetti
4 tablespoons olive oil (best quality)
2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
6 large farm eggs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring salted water to boil in large pot, add spaghetti, cook until “al dente” … that means “firm to the tooth” … not soft! Heat olive oil and garlic over medium flame in a large skillet. Be careful not to brown the garlic because that will give it a bitter taste. Add eggs and fry carefully over medium heat, with yolks not runny, but slightly firm. Drain pasta, reserving pasta water on the side. Put spaghetti in the frying pan and slowly add pasta water (to just moisten, not soak). Toss gently with eggs and garlic, then the Parmesan, crushed red pepper and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot sprinkled with parsley on a warmed platter. Yield: About four servings.
Italian Essentials Your Pantry Should Have
- Grating cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Capers: Tart nuggets for seafood and salad dressings
- Canned San Marzano tomatoes for an easy sauce
- Fresh lemons: Juice, zest and grilled slices for seafood
- Dried pasta: Long spaghetti and short, chewy penne
- Breadcrumbs – Italian or panko – turn summer veggies into tasty pan-sizzled treats.
- Garlic: fresh – NOT pre-peeled, pre-minced, a paste or dried.
- Red wine: Box or bottle
- Pine nuts: Toasted atop sautéed spinach, bruschetta, ice cream
- Cured meats: Salami, pancetta, prosciutto and bacon
- Sea salt, green herbs, red pepper flakes
- Vinegar: Balsamic, red wine or sherry
- Optional: Canned anchovies, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and cannellini or fava beans