Fall in Italy is magical in a way that only first loves, Disney movies, and cappuccini can rival. While in America fall is equal to pumpkin spice and football season, in Italia, fall represents the arrival of harvest—specifically, mushrooms, chestnuts, and grapes. This cornucopia of colors, tastes, sights and smells proves a ripe time for digging out that old family seasonal Italian recipes book and recreating some of nonna’s traditional Italian masterpieces, handcrafting everything from savory appetizers to delicate desserts. Luckily for you, I’ve done all the digging and have rounded up some of my favorite seasonal Italian recipes and dishes here at The Roman Foodie that feature the autumnal trifecta of mushrooms, grapes, and chestnuts. If these don’t whet your appetite enough to book a last minute autumn visit to Italy, then at least you will be able to bring a little bit of the Italy to your home in the form of a traditional harvest dish or two.
Tartufi and Porcini
Harvest: October and November
Recipe: Risotto con Porcini by Antonio Carluccio
A staple in most of this seasonal Italian recipes, mushrooms are as beloved as sunflowers in the region of Tuscany—featured in the likes of pasta sauces and as toppings on a pizza ai funghi. Although mushrooms are used all year in many regions of Italy, fall is the season when mushrooms truly come into their own, especially those found in Tuscany, such as the Tartufi (Truffles) and Porcini. In the most part, farmers use dogs to forage for the infamous Tuscan truffles, but lucky for us laymen there are Truffle fairs that begin in October in San Miniato, near Pisa. These fairs allow locals and visitors to attend truffle-based dinners and a Sagra del Tartufo Bianco, a rural festival celebrating the white truffle. However, although I find them unbelievably delicious, truffles may not be to everyone taste and are not particularly kind to one’s wallet. Porcini mushrooms, one the other hand, are a lot more user friendly. Usually harvested around November time, mushroom foragers can be seen across Tuscany and many other parts of Italy, scouring the hills and forests for the popular porcini in order for them to be collected and sold. My favorite method of preparing these earthy porcini mushrooms is in a simple risotto, like that of well-renowned Italian chef Antionio Carluccio.
Region: Across Italy
Recipe: Salsiccia con l’uva by Lidia Bastianich
Perhaps Italy’s most well-known produce, grapes are probably most famous in the form of smooth Italian wines like Sangiovese or Brunello. But the charms of the fruit itself are not lost in Italy; starring in creations such as the infamous schiacciata all’uva, a traditional Florentine focaccia studded with the violet gems. Sweetness aside, if you have more of a savory appetite, you can try this daring recipe by Lidia Bastianich which marries the flavors of sausage meat with the juiciness of grapes.
Harvest: October through winter season
Region: Largely Northern Tuscany
Recipe: Chestnut Cake by Academia Brilla
In Italy, chestnuts aren’t necessarily associated with Jack Frost nipping at your nose; the earthy tree nuts are the basis for many delicious Italian sweets. In fact, it was apparently the Romans taste for chestnuts that can be held responsible for the growth of chestnut trees across Europe, as they are said to have planted them during their various campaigns as far back as 2000 B.C. Many elegantly whipped confections are made from these precious type of nut, but they are also often eaten alone. Walking through many of the Italian cities in autumn, you will smell the rich smokey smell of roasted chestnuts, as vendors decorate the sides of the streets with their stalls selling the toasted delicacy. Nonetheless, I must admit that I do love them in a good cake. I recommend the above chestnut cake recipe from Academia Barilla, which uses chestnut flour, pine nuts, and olive oil to make a traditionally Tuscan treat.
If all of this talk of seasonal Italian recipes has you salivating, take a look at our different Food Tours in Rome.
If going to Florence, our sister company, The Roman Guy, offers market tours accompanied by cooking classes, which are fabulous, and wine tasting excursions in Montalcino. For more information, like The Roman Guy on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @theromanguy.