Season - 'That time of the year in which certain agricultural jobs are carried out, in which the earth gives certain produce' - according to Italy's Treccani dictionary, translated from Italian.
There are two aspects to Italian cooking which we always mention at Mangia Mangia, one is food being regional, the other is seasonal. If you read our blog post Italian Cooking - Sublime Ingredients we delve into a cultural celebration of ingredients and combinations. Basing your dishes on what looks best at the morning market is normal for Italians who'd never contemplate cooking asparagus in December for example, but then again, they wouldn't find any asparagus for sale in December to begin with. The culture of food in this country does not include or embrace food out of season. It never has and probably never will. As times change and we find what we desire at the click of a button, it seems Italy remains stuck in the old ways and quite happily so.
Why wait for strawberries to appear in spring?
Here are a few reasons:
1. Seasonal foods are more sustainable - shorter distances to travel mean less of a global impact.
2. Seasonal foods are more nutritious - with favourable growing conditions of light and temperature, fruits and vegetables can reach their peak in nature with ease. Crops will thrive in a natural habitat meaning they're less susceptible to pests or diseases. This results directly in fewer additives or pesticides. Moreover, if food is harvested and eaten quickly, nutrients don't deteriorate, creating an all-round healthier product.
In the northern Alpine provinces of Italy where apples are grown, there's an active movement towards eliminating pesticides completely. You can find an apple that has been treated once or you can find an apple that has been treated three times. As a consumer, who no doubt eats the skin of the apple, you're empowered to make an informed choice. This movement runs parallel to an already massive industry of organic farming. The same attitude is adopted in the province of Veneto where Prosecco is produced. As we discuss in our blog post The Prosecco Hills, spraying pesticides is strictly regulated but unavoidable in order to keep up with international demand. Here too, more and more Veneti will opt for a bottle of local, hardier grape varieties like Verdiso, believing their health directly jeopardized by the amount of pesticide spraying.
3. Seasonal foods taste better - a number of factors influence the actual taste. Climatic influences like direct, warm sunshine together with the freshness of a product will contribute towards how good something may taste. Ask a Napolitano and they'll swear the sea-air and Amalfi sunshine are what make Marzano tomatoes the best. And they must be grown in Agro Nocerino – Sarnese in the province of Salerno, otherwise they could never taste as good.
3. Waiting is good - everything has its time and place but in our fast-paced world of convenience at our finger tips, we seem to have lost the appreciation of good things taking time. It's good to wait, just think of Christmas! If Christmas was every week, surely it would lose some sparkle?
We can learn to be grateful for what nature provides, when she provides it, looking forward to the arrival of our favourite fruits and vegetables with growing anticipation.
The area in Veneto we live in is rural but even in bigger cities, with small gardens, a patch will often be dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables. There's a real influence of the seasons here, with almost every family we know growing something to eat. Often, the elder generation, having more time on their hands, will sow a kitchen garden in spring to nurse through summer, proud to supply the rest of the family with home-grown goods. It's commonplace to exchange surplus produce between friends or neighbours creating a true sense of community and once again, we see a celebration of seasonal ingredients in their own right. A beautiful and functional hobby which instils a genuine sense of appreciation for the earth and her bounty, many an Italian granny will contentedly sit for hours shelling peas or cleaning mushrooms on a chair in the sunshine. And at the end of summer, la conserva is traditionally made from excess ripe tomatoes grown in ones garden - cooked, bottled and stacked, ready for the year. What true satisfaction to eat something you have nurtured and grown, and so nutritious.
Here's our year in seasonal dishes
Radicchio di Treviso and pancetta.
Mediterranean Salad - rocket, sun-dried tomatoes, Grana Padano and olives.
Asparagus and Speck lasagne.
Pea and pancetta risotto.
Beefsteak tomatoes and burrata.
Red pepper, aubergine and zucchini pasta fredda.
Pizza Parmigiana with aubergine.
Pumpkin and gorgonzola risotto.
Spinach, pumpkin, pancetta and walnut salad.
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni