Italian Produce We Love
Although the seasons are similar, the climate in Italy is much milder than in the US, allowing some of our favorite produce of the cuisine to thrive!
As well as the standard yellow chicory and red radicchio, Italy grows a lot of other leaves from the chicory family. Puntarelle is a popular variety of chicory in Italy. It has long dandelion shaped leaves that grow up to 20in in length and small inner shoots that are traditionally eaten raw served with a rich anchovy dressing to counteract its bitterness.
Tomatoes are one of the fundamentals of Italian cuisine even though they have only been used in cooking since the eighteenth century. Italians place tomatoes in two categories for eating: insalatari – tomatoes for eating raw, normally quite acidic, and salsa – usually very ripe tomatoes used for sauces and cooking. Some of the world’s tastiest varieties hail from Italy including Datterini, San Marzano and the cherry, Pachino.
Agretti, also known as monk’s beard, or Salsola Soda, is grown in Tuscany and has a very short season that is only five weeks long. However, there are farmers beginning to grow it on home soil due to its soaring popularity amongst high-end chefs. Its saltiness gives a wonderful flavor boost to dishes! It can be eaten fresh, but more commonly it is sautéed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side dish. It is also popular for use as a serving bed, classically with fish.
Beetroot is not commonly associated with Italian cooking, however, the striking Chioggia or candy stripe beetroot, originates from the town of the same name in Veneto. First cultivated in the mid-19th century, this vibrant vegetable has pink and white stripes and makes a stunning addition to a salad.
A vegetable that is commonly associated with Italy is zucchini, often referred to as Courgettes. We are probably all familiar with the run of the mill green zucchini but there are also striped varieties, yellow varieties, round varieties and the most unusual Trombetta zucchini which are known for their long winding shape resembling a trumpet; they also happen to be especially delicious. Zucchini flowers are also a popular choice in Italy.
Cavolo nero, or black cabbage, is becoming increasingly well known throughout the culinary world and has been grown in Italy since 600BC. It is rich in nutrients and can be used as a tasty alternative to kale in soups and salads. It has a distinct flavor that is slightly sweeter than that of its cousin kale.
Italy is home to some of the more unusual types of broccoli; cime de rapa, or broccoli rabe, is a brassica generally associated with Southern Italian cuisine. It is similar to our well-known broccoli but with small florets, long stems and edible leaves it is slightly more bitter in taste. Another Italian broccoli is romanesco; a striking vegetable, its geometric shape looks more like a math puzzle than a vegetable and its flavor is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower.
Source: Great Italian Chefs