Vegetables-a staple in Italian cooking


This is something that is somewhat new to me. I always assumed pasta was the main staple, and while it’s widely used in the Italian diet, so are vegetables. It’s important to use vegetables that are “in season” in your area for best results when using vegetables. Because we live in a society where produce can be grown and shipped from all over to any locality, we assume that we can use that produce in any season. We can but the flavors might not be the same.But the reality is that when one uses in season produce, you are truly getting into the Italian way of cooking.

Since I live in Northeastern Ohio, I began to do some resarch concerning the vegetables of the season. I found a great article at About.com which lists in season produce by region.  I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to read a long list of produce available to me in the winter.Most of it is probably shipped in from other places, but I can get them. The challenge would be to use only winter vegetables at this point, but I’m not getting that deep. I am not a farmer or any kind of gardener so I am not familiar with growing seasons and in season produce. Researching this information has been eye-opening and encouraging to me.

I found a great resource for anyone who wants to search for farmer’s markets and CSA’s in their areas. It’s called Localharvest.org and you can search by zipcode or city name.  There is another local market in Cleveland that I haven’t been to in awhile. I might have to take a drive there soon and see what I can get this time of year.

Some of my favorite fruits and vegetables to cook with are on the winter list. In no particular order they are : Broccoli, cauliflower, lemons, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, potatoes, oranges, clementines and tangerines. I am excited to try fennel, turnips, leeks and many  more. These are most likely to have decent prices when you shop for them at the grocery store or a market.

Here are a few recipes I want to try.

Baked Fennel (taken from Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking)

2 lbs fennel bulbs, washed and cut in half

4 tbsp butter (Imight use olive oil)

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Serves 4-6

Cook fennel in a large pot of boiling water until just tender and not mushy. Drain and preheat oven to 400. Cut fennel bulbs lengthwise into 4 or 6 pieces. Place them in an oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with olive oil or dot with butter. Top with cheese and bake until cheese is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immdiately.

Chickpea Salad

2 cans of chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

6 scallions, chopped

2 medium tomatoes, cubed

1 small red onion, finely chopped

12 black olives, pitted and cut in half

1 tbsp capers, drained

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley or mint leaves

4 harboiled eggs, cut into quarters for garnish

For the dressing:

5 tbsp olive oil (I use extra virgin)

3 tbsp wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the chickpeas under cold water adn drain. Place in a serving bowl. Mix the other vegetables with the olives, capers, and parsley.  Mix the ingredients for the dressing together in a small bowl. Toss salad with mixed herbs. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Taste for season. Allow to stand for 1 hour. Just before serving decorate the salad with the egg wedges.

I can’t wait to try out both these dishes!

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