3 seasonal ingredients for 5 everyday recipes from Italy
Holidays are over, Christmas decorations are back in their boxes and we have come back to work. If you’re feeling exhausted from juggling work with private life, have less time for yourself and to cook a proper meal, or you’re simply looking for recipes to make your kids eat their vegetables, this article is for you. Moreover, you may discover something new about Italy and its culinary traditions – which, by the way, is one of our missions, isn’t it?
Please note that Italian climate makes the following vegetables in season from late fall to early spring; if now you can’t find them in your area, add this page to your Favourites for future reference.
Fried artichokes vs Carciofi alla Giudia
Italy is the world’s top producer of artichokes. However, many people find them quite intimidating and difficult to deal with. But, once you know how to handle them, they may become your favorite vegetable. Artichokes are really versatile: you can either cook them (literally in any way) or use them for a delicious salad, and even the stem is edible (which is shocking for many Italians) provided it is tender. If you’d like to try them fried, clean the stem and cut off the outer leaves until you reach the tender pale green leaves, cut off the top and cut them into pieces. Place them in cold water with the juice of half a lemon to prevent them from browning and prepare a light batter with eggs, flour and salt. Dry the artichokes, dip them in the batter, cover with flour and deep-fry in hot oil until they are golden-brown on all sides.
Any Italian market or grocery store sells artichokes in this period, but, if we had to associate them to a city, that would be Rome. Carciofi alla giudia, “Jewish-style artichokes”, aren’t difficult to make but you need the right kind of artichokes: the round, soft and spikeless Romanesco variety. This dish was created in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto in the mid-16th century and it has become so popular that it is now served all-year round in many of the city’s restaurants. To make them at home, remove the outer leaves and cut off the top of the artichoke, peel the shortened stem and immerse them in a bucket full of water and lemon juice for 10 minutes. Dry and gently press them on the counter to make the leaves open, then add salt and pepper. Heat the oil and immerse the artichokes for 10 minutes approximately. Place them on a paper towel-lined plate and gently pull open each “bud” so that it resembles a fully bloomed rose. Increase oil temperature and fry them again for a few minutes until they are brown and crisp.
If you love artichokes, you may also like abbacchio alla scottadito con carciofi
Radicchio is so typically Italian that it doesn’t even have an English name, a red Italian excellence just like Ferrari. Actually, the word radicchio indicates several types of leafy vegetables belonging to the same family, characterized by different color, shape, and taste. However, we can safely say that all varieties are typically crunchy, even when cooked. It is widely consumed in Northern Italy, but it is usually associated with North-Eastern regions, where some of the best varieties of this chicory are grown: radicchio rosso di Chioggia, radicchio rosso di Verona, radicchio rosso di Treviso. All types of radicchio can be eaten both raw, as an ingredient for salads, and cooked.
For our recipe, you can use any kind of radicchio. Clean, wash and dry your radicchio before quartering it lengthwise. Preheat your oven and put the wedges on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast the wedges for about 15 minutes, turning them a few times, until leaves are wilted and slightly charred. This recipe will make radicchio less bitter but, if you want to further mitigate its taste, you can add some Parmigiano and olive oil before serving.
Have a look at our selection of Italian soups if you’re interested in more winter recipes
Fennel salad and fennel gratin
Like artichokes and radicchio, fennel is used in many ways: it can be eaten raw, in a soup, steamed, roasted. Salads made with raw vegetables and fruit are perfect both as an appetizer and as a side dish accompanying meat or fish. In particular, this fennel and orange salad is a typical Italian winter dish with Sicilian origins. Trim any brown edges from the bottom, remove stems and fronds, wash fennel bulbs, and slice them very thin. Place them in a bowl and season with oil, salt and pepper. Prepare the oranges by eliminating both the peel and the white pith, cut them into pieces and add them to the bowl. You can also add walnuts, pine nuts, or olives.
If you prefer a hot dish, you can prepare fennel gratin with us. Trim the bulbs, cut them into two halves and wash them. Cut the halves into 4 wedges, steam or boil for 5 minutes. Drain them and put them in a frying pan with melted butter for 5 minutes, turning the wedges from time to time. Prepare the béchamel, add some salt and nutmeg. Arrange the wedges in an ovenproof dish, pour the béchamel, top with shaved Parmigiano, and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes until golden.
Buon appetito and don’t forget to check out our cooking glossary!