I have heard of one lucky man for whom undervalued vegetables turned to solid gold. Here is the story as I was told it:
A farmer who grew acres and acres of onions became weary of trying to sell his onions at home, so he filled a carriage with bags of them and struck out to seek his fortune. After much journeying he reached a country where onions were unknown, and when he demonstrated their wonders to the royal court, the king rewarded the farmer by filling all of his onion bags with gold.
The farmer returned home and told his story. So his neighbor, a garlic farmer, took the same journey, to the same land.
The court was again bewitched, this time by garlic, and the night after a great feast, where garlic soups got the pulses quickened, and garlic chicken drove people to ecstasy, the garlic farmer was rewarded; his garlic sacks filled to brimming with treasure. The man drove straight back to his native land, aching to see his riches. When he finally arrived, he opened his bulging bags to find them full of the kingdom’s most prized possession: onions.”
I ate the best dessert of my life almost a decade ago in a town called
Praiano, seven miles down the winding road that leads from the
cliffside town of Positano toward the sea.
At the bottom of the road there is a tiny harbor where a man
named Armandino runs a restaurant with his daughter. I ate lunch
there, outside by the pier on a clear blue spring day.
I was with the man loved, and we ate. We ate tuna preserved
in olive oil, with little black olives and slivers of onion. Then pasta
with baby clams, still in their shells.
Then there was a plate of seafood: baby octopus, no bigger than
the pad of my thumb; pin-sized white bait; whole little anchovies;
a single, whole red mullet, just longer from his head to tail than
my hand. Each had been dipped in batter and fried and served with
lemon. After lunch we had hard nut cookies and a kind of half
frozen pudding. And then small dark coffees. After coffee, there was
limoncello, made from the lemons that grow up and down the cliffs.
When we finished our liqueur we sat, dazzled by the meal, the
bright water, and the birds picking fish off rocks and letting them
fall again, boats dropping in and out of the nearby harbors, which
were sunk too deep into the cliffs' mouths for us to watch them
Then Armandino came to our table carrying a bowl of dark, wet
walnuts, still in their shells, and two half glasses of red wine. We
explained that we were too full and had a distance still to drive that
day. Armandino pressed the wineglasses down and cleared a space
between them for the bowl of walnuts, and another for their shells.
It would be better, he said. if we left lunch with the tastes of the next
meal already in our mouths.
Cookies and lemon liqueur said nothing of dinner, but half sweet
walnuts and wine began to whisper. Something of another hunger,
another meal, of again finding a place to sit together, again finding
something good to eat.
We nodded, understanding then, and began to crack and peel the
nuts, still wet inside their shells.
We stopped talking and just peeled, watching thin filaments of
walnut skin coming off when either of us hit on spots with good
focus. We sipped our wine slowly and remained there, peeling and
sipping, getting no drunker but more ready, until the sky began to
darken, and it made sense for us to go.