Eating with the Seasons in Italy

Eating with the Seasons in Italy

Here in the world of imported, frozen foods that is the North America, we have become so accustomed to restaurants with microwaves hidden in the back and seeing “artificial flavors” on every ingredient list that local, in season food doesn’t mean a thing to us anymore. Even in the rural south locally grown vegetables is considered gourmet instead of normal. Thankfully, the delectable food of Italy is here to teach us all a lesson in the importance of eating with the seasons.

Italy has over 1.6 million farms providing food to stores and restaurants throughout the country. A number that has stayed surprisingly steady when compared to other countries. The reason for this is the Italian belief that there is no ingredient as good as a fresh ingredient. In fact, most reputable restaurants only prepare foods that are in season, instead of importing foods from around the world. The Italian people eagerly wait for their favorite foods to be in season once again. Countless popular dishes depend on seasonal ingredients such as wild mushrooms and strawberries to be properly prepared.

Throughout the year the menu of Italy changes as often as the seasons. In spring vegetables are fresh and plenty, calling of course for wonderful soups and salads. Artichokes are a favorite of many from being the featured ingredient in a salad to having stuffed artichokes as a main course. Desserts are almost always topped with fresh strawberries in spring, except for the incredible Italian mimosa cake, a cream filled sponge cake with lemons.

Lemons aren’t just for the mimosa cake, though. As the temperature rises and the summer sun shines on Italy, nearly every dish utilizes lemons in some way. From Mediterranean salads to fresh seafood (and of course a glass of cool lemonade), summer meals are often light and crisp in summer. The dishes of summer are too many to count. With a large majority of ingredients still in season and ingredient experimentation and improvisation at its highest, one could eat all day, every day and still not experience all there is to offer.

As the leaves change colors and autumn is upon Italy, some of the Italians’ favorite comfort foods come into season. Wild mushrooms are harvested and sautéed, the aroma of mushroom risotto fills many kitchens across the country. Another autumn favorite is the chestnut, often roasted, boiled, or even ground into flour. They are considered a delicacy by themselves, served as treats at events and eaten by the handful. However, they are also used as ingredients in dishes such as chestnut salami, polenta, and castagnaccio for dessert. Speaking of dessert, autumn is the time to order it in Italy. Not only chestnuts, but truffles and pies as appear very often in the season as well.

As the snow begins to fall over Italy, the incredible pastas, stews, and meat loaves warm kitchens across the country. Traditional homemade meatballs and spaghetti give families a break from the harsh cold outside of their door. Less traditional wintry foods include roasted cauliflower with parmesan and eggplant rigatoni. For dessert (if anyone still has room for it after a full plate of spaghetti), chocolate is never a bad way to go. Rich cakes often accompany rich meals in Italy. Sometimes, however, an exception can be made for candied fruit or even cookies.

We are indeed lucky to have the Italians to remind us of the importance of fresh food. Eating with the seasons is not just for Italy though! Check online to know what foods are in season and build recipes for different times of the year. Also, use what you have learned to order at Italian restaurants to always better food. The number of resources you have at your disposal to learn to create incredible food for you and your family is endless. Now, I have to go. All of this talk of Italian food has made me hungry!

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