Mediterranean Fall Comfort Food: Italy

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There is something magical about the fall in Europe. There are less crowds. The weather has settled into mild warm. Most importantly, travelers in the autumn months are also rewarded with some wonderful culinary experiences.  Eating local, seasonal food is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. There are specialties and dishes that we wait for all year to taste as the fall approaches.(And Italian food comes alive in the fall!)

This month on our blog, we will highlight a few of our favorite fall comfort foods from some of our destinations.  Though sadly this year you won’t be able to taste them in person, these specialties are great ideas to make note of for your future travels and fun recipes to introduce your family to as you prepare for a  trip.  Gearing up for a great adventure in a year or two?  Try your hand at some typical recipes from the country you are dreaming of visiting.  Have dinner with a subtitled movie, try to learn some of the culinary words in the recipe you are making. There are lots of fun ways to bring a piece of the Mediterranean fall to your home as you eagerly await our next holiday.

Italian Comfort Food

Food is an essential part of Italian culture.  There are few countries in the world that have food so intrinsically tied to their cultural identity. Sampling the specialities of Italy is frequently one of the main reasons our clients pick this country for their tailor-made vacation.  Italian food is also fiercely regional. Certain dishes you’ll see in Piedmont are the equivalent to “foreign food” in another region. You won’t be able to find them or most likely even the ingredients to make them elsewhere. Therefore, it’s quite possible to eat your way through the regions of Italy and not repeat a dish.

The fall is no exception.  Seasonal eating means that certain products, produce and dishes are prepared and only available at a certain time of the year. As the summer sun turns to the warm colors of autumn, the dishes get richer.  Italy truly excels at comfort food.  

Ribollita, Tuscany

This hearty soup has many variations but ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and kale…variants include fall produce like cabbage, beans, chard, celery and onion.  Ribollita translates to “reboiled” or the soup is boiled twice. It is a wonderful way to use a leftover broth, old bread and an abundance of beans and kale to make a warm, filling and delicious dish.

White truffles, Piedmont

The prized tartufo bianco d’Alba has a strictly controlled season that they can be “hunted”.  From September 21st to the end of December, licensed foragers (tartufai) and their trusty dogs harvest and dig through the region in search of this prized and incredibly expensive fungus.  Though truffles can be found in different regions of Italy, the tartufo bianco d’Alba is one of the most prized.  Visitors to the region of Piedmont this time of year can find truffle as an addition in much Italian cuisine.  Poached egg with a grating of fresh truffle is a personal favorite. Local egg pasta, thin as a ribbon, called tajarin, is served simply with butter and shavings of the aromatic star. There are so many possibilities! But this is the only time of year the truffle hunters are allowed to search for the famous white truffle.

Wild boar, All Over Italy:

Wild oar dishes are common all over Italy in the fall.  In October, the wild boar hunting season opens up in most of the country and means a new addition to fall menus. For example, the season opens up October 3rd. This tiny region is oftentimes associated with the long stretch of sea that hugs its coast. Yet, the cuisine of Liguria is also that of the mountains that frame the sunny riviera. And as such, in the fall the dishes turn heavier and richer. 

With the opening of the wild boar hunt, you’ll find hearty wild boar ragù on the menu (served commonly with wide, flat pappardelle pasta), or wild boar stews.  Cinghiale alla cacciatora, or wild boar hunter’s stew, can be found in many different regions of Italy in the fall. Here in Liguria, it is typically served braised in wine with herbs, olives and pine nuts.  In Tuscany, you’ll find it frequently in a tomato sauce, and in certain parts of several regions, you’ll find it served aside a hearty portion of polenta (think Italian grits).  There are few things more comforting than a plate of this special fall dish!

Canederli alla tirolese (Knödel), Trentino Alto Adige:

As Italian food is incredibly regional, there are certain dishes that might not seem typically “Italian” at a first glance.  Canederli are bread dumplings typical served in Northeastern Italy. They reflect the German and Austrian geographic and cultural influences in this area of the country.  Like a round gnocchi, they are made with a “dough” from old bread and smoked ham (speck), served in a rich, comforting broth.  It’s a wonderful dish to try in the colder northern areas of Italy, and a great way to warm up after a day hiking or even skiing in the north in the fall.

Cassœula, Lombardy: This hearty stew is a typical dish from the Monza area of Lombardy, and a quintessential comfort food.  Made from seasonal savoy cabbage and many types of pork (to make sure in leaner days that nothing was wasted), this stew has little variations from village to village, family to family. These variations even extend to its many names such as casoeûla. But the basics are the same – a hearty pork and cabbage stew, named after the “casserole” dish in which it is cooked.

These are just a few Italian fall specialties to try at home, or to make a note of to taste on your future fall holiday.  The possibilities go on, and for those that are passionate about Italian gastronomy, this is a great time of year to “taste” their way through the regions of Italy.

Buon Appetito!

Written by Christine Mitchell De-Fina

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