What I Learned About Food in Italy: Eat What's in Season

When people learn that you lived abroad in Italy for three years, they typically like to ask you about some fairly predictable things. After getting the basics, the conversation usually turns to food and wine. In regard to the former, it's amazing how quickly this question comes up: do you miss all the fresh food and produce? The answer is yes, but it's not quite that simple.

The fact of the matter is that fresh, amazing produce is available here, too. Particularly in Chapel Hill, between farmer's markets and local grocery co-ops, it's easy to find food grown and/or produced within a 100 mile radius that is delicious*.

What I really miss, however, is essentially being forced to eat seasonally.

I can't tell you how many times I would walk into a grocery store or the local veggie stand in Italy and mumble obscenities under my breath about just wanting an avocado or a pineapple or a decent eggplant -- damn the season! But, I would quickly get over it, buy whatever looked good (out-of-season produce in Italy could look scary-bad) and go on my merry way. We ate what was in season because it's what was primarily available to us.

And, you want to know something? We typically felt pretty darn good. We slept well, our skin looked great and we were rarely affected by the change-of-season cold and flus that are so common around here. We ate hearty foods in the fall and winter, and lighter fare in the spring and summer. We used our stale bread for pappa al pomodoro in the winter and for panzanella in the summer. It was the way of things.

So, when I find myself feeling sluggish or tired these days, I start to wonder if my return to all-season eating has gotten the better of me. Today, I grabbed out our stack of Mangiare di Stagione cookbooks -- a fantastic collection of recipes based on what's in season. Reading through the recipes immediately transported me back to Florence...shopping for myself and also indulging at local eateries. A lot of seasonal dishes (particularly sweets) have tradition and history wrapped in them and I loved learning more about these regional-seasonal specialties.

Things will quiet down here ever so slightly in a few weeks around the holidays and I may set out on a mission to get us back on the seasonal eating path. A tall order, perhaps, but one worth trying.

*side note: I'm fairly convinced that eating North Carolina's Holly Grove Farms Jalapeno Goat cheese is part of the reason I was put on this planet.