Thirty years ago, when I first came to live in Italy, the food you could get here - whether in shops or in restaurants - was 100% Italian. There were no ethnic supermarkets, the main supermarkets stocked only Italian products and though an Indian restaurant did open shortly after I arrived, it closed again about six months later because of lack of custom. Coming from an already cosmopolitan country like Britain, it was rather a shock. (Though nowadays as I pass the McDonalds which dot the city at about a hundred yards from each other, I do sometimes feel somewhat nostalgic).
Needless to say, things have changed and Milan is now as cosmopolitan as anywhere else, with a large migrant population. Plus the fact that increased opportunities for travel have meant that the Milanese too are more open to foreign food. Ethnic restaurants and supermarkets abound, and in the last couple of years even mainstream chains have started to cater for non-Italian tastes. You want yams or fresh coriander? Basmati rice or baked beans? Just pop into your local supermarket.
Recently though I've found a couple of things which are not particularly "ethnic" but which I'd still never come across before. The first were banana shallots. The one in the photo was nearly 7 inches long.
Checking on the Internet it didn't seem to be particularly unusual, so you may be wondering what the fuss is about. But I'd certainly never seen them before. I cooked them in a pasta sauce instead of onions, and roasted. Both ways worked well - they have a nice, mild flavour, but don't really seem much different to ordinary shallots.
The other vegetable though has really got me stumped. The Italian name on the label on the market stall was spigoli - roughly translated as "jutting out corners", which is presumably a reference to the bits in the middle. But an Internet search produced nothing.
I cooked it in a very small quantity of water and oil, not even sure which bit or bits I was supposed to eat. The green bits were nice, but nothing special. Just greens. The white spikes in the middle were a bit bitter, but OK. I'm not sure I'd bother to get it again - there are other greens which I like better. But it was curious. Has anyone ever come across it? Or even grown it?