The definitive guide to Italian Seasonal Eating

One of the greatest joys about visiting Italy is eating in Italy. Italian cuisine is one of the most loved in the world. The secret to its delicious, local and seasonal dishes lies in the ingredients. Seasonal eating in Italy means that you are eating fresh, seasonal ingredients at their peak flavor. There are no jarred-for years or deep-freeze Italian ingredients; you can enjoy the best Italian cuisine if you choose the right ingredients at the right time.

It is considered a way to live that is sacred by the Italians who eat seasonally. Many wouldn’t consider eating tomato bruschetta in January, or roasting porcini in July. No one will judge you for trying out classic dishes, even if they are not in season at the time. You have to try the best Italian food available if you want to taste the essence of Italian cuisine.

General Tips

It can be difficult to know what season is in Italy, even for Italians. This handy guide is provided by Veneto’s supermarkets. Photo by Nick Brown-Warr

  • Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and fennel are staples during the winter months. Fresh leafy greens can only be found on plates in spring.
  • Summer is the best season for many fruits, but not all. The big draw at this time of the year is melons.
  • It is similar to the United States’ fall harvest. Think grapes, apples and squash. But in Italy, you can also find exquisite truffles. The other symbol of autumn in Italy is the chestnut.
  • Fish have seasons. See this guide from Slow Fish.


Winter

What’s In Season: Kale (cavolo Riccio), potatoes (patate), broccoli (broccoli), artichokes [carciofi], thistle (cardo], cauliflower (cavolfiore], cabbage (cavolfiore], broccoli (broccoli], artichokes [carciofi], thistle (cardo), thistle(cardo), thistle), thistle (“cardo”), kale”), pears (pere), pearini), pomegranates” (melagranates (pere), pomegranates” (pere), kiwi), pears (pere), ), pears (pere), and ), kiwis “mandorle”)


Open-air food markets are held at the Campo de’Fiori in Rome. They offer delicious food all year, including these oranges and persimmons in January! Photo by Marco Verch (flickr)

Winter foods are a continuation and growth of stronger autumn harvests, but there are some surprising vegetables that can ripen even during the coldest months. It’s all about finding these delicious gems when you eat in Italy during winter. Cabbage, cavolo-nero, kale and cauliflower make great soups. Radicchio, carrots, fennel, and lettuce add some color.


December

It is a Italian tradition that cabbage harvested after a frost yields the most flavorful and best tasting. The result is that markets and restaurants are flooded with the stuff after the first frost. You can find the Lombardia’s famous casseoula, or enjoy the Dolomites’ best sauerkraut in towns and cities. Radicchio is another amazing vegetable that debuts in December. Radicchio adds bitter and spicy flavor to salads. It can also be used as a main ingredient when grilled with lemon and Parmesan shavings. Radicchio al Lardo is a decadent, but not necessarily healthy, choice. It’s radicchio leaves dipped in pig fat.


January

It is a simple pleasure to eat oranges in Italy in February. Both blood oranges and orange oranges are grown in Sicily’s cradle for citrus, the fabled Conca d’Oro. They add a bright, citrusy touch to winter’s heavy foods. A fresh spremuta di’arancia (freshly squeezed orange wine) can be purchased at any cafe in January to discover why Sicily is still a top citrus producer. This period also sees a lot of mandarins and clementines, which are great for desserts and gelato.

Insiders’ Tipp: The blood oranges from Sicily have been widely acclaimed as some of the best in the world because of their unique microclimate and certain characteristics in the soil. You can enjoy one of the most authentic and delicious southern Italian culinary delights when you eat it in season.


February

February will continue the winter tradition of oranges, cabbage, lentils and spinach. Two more stars are added to the mix: gorgeous bunches of broccoli, and fennel. These plants grow in abundance at this time of year. Fennel, though not as popular abroad, is an essential ingredient in Italian cuisine and something you must try when you are there. It can be used to flavor bread, crackers, salads, soups, and other dishes. Eat broccoli rabe in the famous Pugliese favorite orecchiette con le cime di rapa.

This month you’ll find succulent almonds decorating cakes and pies. A sweet combination of chocolate and pear is another favorite.

Spring

What’s In Season: Fava beans (fave), asparaagi, artichokes [carciofi], zucchini flowers (fiori d zucca), springpeas (porri], leeks (porri), leeks (porri), ginger (aglio), garlic (aglio), citrus (limoni), lemons (“limoni”), kiwi (“kiwi”), strawberries (fragole), and cherries (ziegie)


Carciofi alla Guidea, which is deep-fried artichoke, has been a Rome favorite Jewish food.

Spring brings out the best in vegetable gardens and Italy’s food scene enters an extended party phase that continues into the autumn. Spring peas, spring peas, and delicate vegetables such as zucchini flowers are all classic spring dishes. Other fruits like strawberries also begin to arrive in season. They are delicious on their own and can be used to flavor everything, from tarts to gelato. Spring is the end of heavy root dishes, and the beginning of lighter meals that are prepared fresh and with care.


March

March is a transition month. The snow starts to melt and fields are planted with spring and Summer produce. Although fresh pumpkin and radicchio are not available this month, beets and asparagus have already begun to grow in the north. However, it will take a few more months for the flavor to peak. The humble leek is March’s star. Although you can cook leeks in many different ways, potato soup with leeks, perhaps flavored with pancetta, is the best way to celebrate this spring onion.


April

April is all about artichokes. This beloved Italian vegetable is in short supply and has been on the menus for months. They can be used in soups, savory pie, or risottos. But, the best way to celebrate artichokes is with carciofi, the Jewish Roman way: deep-fried and tenderized.


May

Although asparagus can start to sprout as early as March but they are best enjoyed in May when the freshest and most delicious asparagus dishes can be prepared. You can also find asparagus in both the green and white varieties. Asparagus risotto, asparagus steak, and asparagus pasta sauces are all options. In Rome, asparagus, fava beans and pecorino are the best of May. But in Milan, they love their asparagi allamilanese with a boiled eggs.

For a brief moment, cherries are also available on the market between May and June. You should grab them if you see them – they are plump and delicious.


Summer

What’s in season: cucumbers (cetrioli), eggplant (melanzane), cantaloupe/melon (melone), peppers (peperoni), zucchini (zucchine), zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca), basil (basilico), tomatoes (pomodori), peas (piselli), coconut (cocco), peaches (pesche), watermelon (cocomero/anguria), berries (frutta di bosco), plums (susini), figs (fichi)


Zucchini flowers make a great spring treat. However, they must be consumed quickly as the flowers start to wilt within days. Photo by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble (flickr)

Summertime is known for its abundance of vegetables. Some vegetables, such as zucchini, peak in the third month of the summer depending on where you live in Italy. You can use zucchini in many ways: as a topping on pizza, inside lasagna, or baked into focaccia. The Amalfi Lemon is another special treat for those who visit the Amalfi Coast in the summer months. These natural delights are also known as Sicilian lemons. They have a vibrant, aromatic flavor and can be enjoyed in excess heat.


June

Italians love zucchini! Take advantage of the pumpkin and zucchini flower season to eat the blossoms! Fior di Zucca is a great appetizer that can be fried or baked.

Another June favourite is strawberries. Even though they start to produce in May, and continue into June, nothing beats a strawberry gelato on hot June afternoons!

For an authentic Italian treat, don’t miss the figs. They have their first harvest at June’s end. The big, purple varieties are best.


July

Enjoy summer vegetables throughout July. The fruits are what will make this month special. Wild blueberries are now in season and will soon be on your menus. Follow the Italians’ example and enjoy fresh cantaloupe with prosciutto to survive the summer heat. It’s quick, easy and requires no heat!


August

August is when all summer fruits and veggies reach their peak maturity and taste levels. You can choose which tomatoes or eggplants you prefer, but they are the best. Both are packed with flavor in August – no weak, watery or off-season taste. They fill all the tables across the country. To get the best flavor from fresh tomatoes, order the tomato tart, caprese salad, or bruschetta. An eggplant parmesan, which is a traditional Italian eggplant stew, can be a good choice. A lemon granita, or lemon gelato is a great way to cool off during the hot afternoons, especially if you’re on the Amalfi Coast.

Autumn

What’s In Season: Fennel (finocchio), Spinaci (spinaci), Mushi (funghi), Truffles (tartufi), Rabbit (broccoletti), Pumpkin (zucca), Chestnuts (castagne), Figs (fichi), Prugne, Grapes (uva), Porcini mushrooms (porcini), Apples (mele).


On a cold autumn day, chestnut vendors make a welcome sight! Photo by Gina Mussio

Ah, Autumn! Autumn! All foods in Italy overlap with those from August, and the late fall foods overlap with those from December depending on the year. The season’s most beloved staples are still mushrooms, truffles and chestnuts.


September

September is a month for transition. September is a month of transition. The harvest offers both the best and worst of both summer and fall. The porcini mushroom is the king of September. It has a texture and taste that rivals even the best pizzas and pastas. True mushroom lovers eat large plates of roasted porcini on their own. Although porcini foragers are likely to have been harvesting mushrooms since July, September is a good month for them to start selling their products in restaurants and markets. It all depends on how hot or wet it is in a given year. This is the one mushroom you must try, regardless of whether you love mushrooms or not.

The second harvest of figs is in the south of Italy. This region specializes in sweet, green varieties. Their green skins are not to be mistaken – they are ripe and bursting with flavor. September is also the beginning of grape harvest. Although most vineyards are used for wine production, there are still markets for red, purple, and green grapes.


October

While October temperatures in central and southern Italy are still warm and humid and the northern regions often see the first snows, the temperature in October is usually much lower. The summer’s slower-growing vegetables and fruits are finally starting to be eaten by the Italians. The pumpkins are at their peak and you will be able to enjoy them even if you have only ever eaten them in pies. You can find them in classic tortellini and ravioli di zucca, especially in Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. You can also find roasted chestnuts in October, which is the first month you will see them on the streets. They are available in pushcarts throughout Italy.


November

All Northern Italians hold November in high regard because it’s the peak month for one the most rare and expensive foods in the world: Truffles. The start of truffle season is October, but tartufo bianco d’Alba is celebrated in a sagra at the end of the month. You can enjoy the earthy, pungent flavor of truffles over pasta, omelets, or mixed into thick sauces for your steak.

Insiders’ Tip: While you can order many foods outside of season, it is best to never buy “fresh”, truffles in any month other than October, November, or December. This is because they won’t taste fresh and they will be frozen.


A thought for the end

Modern greenhouses and shipping technology have made it possible to eat almost all fruits and veggies year-round. If you do not follow the Italian tradition of eating seasonal food, you’ll miss out on an incredible opportunity to enjoy Italian food. It’s true that strawberries are sweeter when they’re in season, and truffles are more flavorful when they’re in season. How can you enjoy one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world than by treating it with the respect and care it deserves?

We’d love to hear from you about your seasonal eating habits in Italy.

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