The key to Italian eating, no matter where you live, is to select ingredients that are fresh, in season, and local. Ensuring that meals are enjoyed at the height of their flavor is the most delicious way to experience cuisine, and, as an added bonus, is the most environmentally sustainable way to eat!
In an Italian home or restaurant, it would be unusual to serve pumpkin ravioli in June or Caprese salad in January. Canned, packaged, and otherwise processed foods are avoided wherever possible.
What should you look for in a seasonal Italian meal? You may find some surprises.
Summers in Italy are a wonderful time to enjoy a wide variety of sweet fruits. Strawberries brighten everything from desserts to salads to entrees, melons appear in appetizers and beverages, and mouthwatering tomatoes can be counted on at almost every meal. This is a time of abundance for produce.
But there’s plenty to look forward to in the colder months, too! This fall, look for pumpkin, figs, plums, and grapes — an important harvest for the country. Deeper into winter, enjoy the famous blood oranges of Sicily and other citrus from the region. Spring marks the arrival of lemons, which inform the preparation of everything from meat to gelato.
Many in the U.S. don’t think of fish as a seasonal item, but seasonal fishing is crucial to italian meal-planning. Italians know that by respecting the natural rhythms of the Mediterranean Sea, including water temperature and hatching season for each variety of fish, their seafood will be around for years to come.
Though there are a few varieties of fish that can be eaten year-round without compromising future fishing seasons, the vast majority of fish will only show up on an Italian plate at their designated times of year.
In summer, Italians enjoy plentiful fresh sardines and anchovies — this means that summer is Caesar salad season, too! This is also the best time to serve fresh sole, mackerel, and sea bass. This fall, Italy will welcome albacore and mullet to the table.
Though winter is often a time of scarcity in terms of seasonal items, seafood thrives in these colder temperatures–Something to look forward to! In the winter months, look for sardines and anchovies to make a comeback, and for a variety of delicacies to join them: octopus, clams, cuttlefish and monkfish.
Herbs and Vegetables
Just like here in Atlanta, summer means zucchini. If you’ve ever signed up for a community-supported agriculture group CSA (or know anyone who has), this is the time of year where when people swap recipes frantically, in an attempt to keep their bountiful zucchini harvest from going to waste. (To learn more about Community Supported Agriculture in Atlanta, check out this article in Atlanta Magazine.)
In Italy, zucchini season starts a little earlier, as zucchini blossoms are considered a featured ingredient in their own right. They are typically sauteed as a side dish or used in a sauce. Other vegetables you’ll find all over Italy at this time of year include cucumber, eggplant, and a variety of peppers. And it all pairs nicely with basil, which overflows in herb gardens all through the warmer months.
As things cool, Italians can look forward to a fall full of dark greens, such as rabe and spinach. The star of late fall and early winter in Italy is the truffle — in fact, October through December are the only times that truly fresh truffles can be found, though unwitting tourists may find themselves being served pre-frozen truffles masquerading as fresh year-round.
Putting It All Together
When considering a meal, whether in a restaurant or in home, it’s important to look at the whole picture. In Italy, though this summer is a wonderful time to eat sea bass, you’ll not find it prepared with oranges or fennel, for example. Instead, sea bass may be baked with Amalfi lemons, or served with a fig salad. In the winter, clams might be served with fennel, but never with a side of zucchini.
For more information on what to eat in Italy in any season, check out this guide from Walks of Italy.
The great news is that no matter the time of year, there are always delicious items in season and ready to be enjoyed in almost infinite combinations.
Join us in our dining room for a rotating menu of seasonal specialties. We focus on Italian coastal cuisine, which means that we serve the best fish for the time of year in an authentic Italian style.
For those of you looking to dine out for an Italian experience on Father’s Day, remember to make your reservation early while there’s still space by clicking here!
Don’t miss il Giallo Osteria & Bar‘s Sous Chef Parker Jorgensen‘s upcoming Summer Grilling Class on June 26th at The Cook’s Warehouse in Midtown. It’s part of the Atlanta Community Food Bank‘s #SimpleAbundance series.
Parker, a Zagat “30 Under 30” star, will be teaching the class how to make Grilled Artichokes with mint pesto and ricotta salata, Smoked Trout Bruschetta, Grilled Garlic & Rosemary Pork Ribs and Grilled Peach Napoleon with pecan butter cookie. Check out the link by clicking here and sign up today before the class sells out!
Every Friday – Awesome Buco Friday – Chef Jamie simmers just 10 Osso Buco in fresh herbs and spices for hours and serves them with saffron risotto. These melt in your mouth Osso Buco are available on a first come, first serve basis.