FARMING IS A FUNDAMENTAL PART OF ITALIAN CULTURE
Farmers have been tending the countryside forever, and more importantly, have been eating their work for even longer. The end result is centuries of first-hand experience and a single-minded devotion to safe, sustainable farming.
Farming holds a fundamental role in Italy’s national development. The same statement could describe the evolution of culture in any other country where hunting and gathering wasn’t predominant, but planting and harvesting were. Why in modern Italy has farming maintained such strong roots? Wouldn’t it be easier to follow the lead of other industrialized countries by eating functional, efficient foods, and ignore seasonality?
As time marches on, the desire to work the land and basically lead a very hard life isn’t exactly appealing to the masses. In fact, national acreage dedicated to small family farms has decreased significantly in the post WWII era. Nonetheless, there is renewed interest and activity on the small-scale. Highly-educated younger generations are heading back to the land, convinced the way forward includes heading back to the presumably less noble work of farming.
“If you get vegetables in season, the difference is remarkable compared to vegetables that might have been imported. You can't beat fresh ingredients and seasonal fresh ingredients. There's nothing quite like the taste of a beautiful summer strawberry.” William Katt
Italy’s vegetables are historically produced by people with an intimate knowledge of their land. Farmers use small batch seeds, and apply rigorous farming standards that result in final products that genuinely represent their hard work and organic, sustainable principles. Agrobusiness does have a role in Italy, but since the emphasis is focused on growing food you’d actually want to eat and share with your own family, big farming principles aren’t the rule of thumb. Obsession with yield, maximizing production, and chemical interventions, all at the expense of taste, sustainability, and health benefits, take a happy second (or third, even fourth) place.
Want to get more in depth? Read more about Italy’s vegetables and see what works for your cooking bonanza at home - become a veggie virtuoso at home by following my chef friends' amazing, tested-and-tried vegetable-based dishes!
WHERE ARE THE BEST VEGGIES GROWN IN ITALY?
That would depend on what you’re looking for. Fertile land from North to South means you’ll find stellar produce everywhere, just follow the rules of seasonality. Every Italian region grows something on a mid-scale proportion. Some areas, like Sicily and Campania, are known for higher yields of seasonal tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini, whereas other areas are known for seasonal fruit instead of veggies. Make a point to go see the places below whenever you can be here physically.
- Northern Regions (including Veneto, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, Liguria) - garlic, asparagus, basil, rocket, potatoes, shallots, runner beans
- Central Regions (including Tuscany, Marche, Lazio, Umbria, Abruzzo) - beans, artichokes, sweet peppers, celery, lentils, carrots
- Southern Regions (including Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Puglia, Sicily, Sardegna) - runner beans, eggplant, sweet peppers, onions, potatoes, artichokes, tomatoes, olives, capers, carrots
WHY SHOULD I USE FRESH VEGETABLES?
I love fresh vegetables in any shape and format, and while the health benefits are endless, it’s the crazy flavors I love the most. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, making dishes I hope my family will love as much as I relish making them. It’s endless entertainment to scour my books and favorite websites to find new recipes, and with my close friend Chef Michele just a few messages away, I’m never short on ideas. I’ve divided my go-to recipes according to season, so I always have something I can whip up last minute, and something to satisfy seasonal cravings and provide filling, complete dishes for us all to enjoy together around la tavola. The crunch of a spicy, crimson radish paired with a calming coat of bagna cauda is a divine moment to share together, as well as enjoying a crunchy-but-creamy roasted potato with sensationally sweet garlic and piney-rosemary - I mean do you really know anyone who doesn’t like roasted potatoes?!
It’s impossible to list all the health benefits each vegetable gives back, but read further to learn more about what makes them così buono.
"Vegetables are something God invented to let women get even with their children.” P.J. O’Rourke
THE VEGETABLE VERDICT: SEASONAL IS VERY MUCH IN SEASON
The true expression of the wonders of the Italian culinary landscape are to be found within its borders - a heady way of saying cook with what you have and with what you know works, and you’ll never be disappointed. Of course, you might wind up making something terrible or borderline edible (this is part of the fun of trying out new flavor combos - I promise you it’s happened to me too) but you will certainly not be lacking quality ingredients as you experiment.
One reason I love vegetables is they’re both forgiving in terms of flavor pairings, but also so very flexible. In the mood for something fried? A frittura di verdure with a very light water and flour impanatura will hit the spot. Looking for the perfect, rich foil to a roasted pork loin? Look no further than roasted golden potatoes doused with EVOO, rosemary and garlic. Need a light yet filling protein that’s not meat? How about a quick springtime Frittata with Spinach and Asparagus? If your tastes swing instead to a hearty summertime pasta dish with extra oomph, I’ve got a Paccheri all’Ortolana dish brimming with eggplant, tomatoes, capers and black olives.
Vegetables are one of the most important parts of both regional Italian cuisine and the Mediterranean Diet. It’s not the only reason why they’re so beloved or so important, but with such a huge role in our daily dishes, and in just about every dish I adore, to dream about Italian cuisine is also to reverentially conjure up images of glossy eggplants and juicy tomatoes. Hats off to all of our favorite vegetables!
Now you know about Nature's Bounty - check out the Mamablip Recipe Index for quick, delicious ideas on how to incorporate them into the daily cooking. And don't forget the wine - check out the Selections page here for lots of great wines to review and pair with the amazing Mamablip recipes!
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