Fruit, Vegetables and Nuts
The first thing you may be thinking is tomatoes, which makes sense since these ripe, round red fellows make up some of the best sauces that are spread over pizza bases and slathered over pasta dishes all around the country. Some of the best varieties include Marinda’s from Sicily, which you should grab while they are a tiny bit green also from here are the vine ripened Datterini which catch the vibrant sunshine in their flavour. The most sought after breed however is the Black Bull’s Heart, The Campania version of which is grown on Mount Vesuvius where the fertile and mineral rich volcanic soil mixes with the sea air to create a glorious monster of a tomato. You will recognise these at the market stalls by their muscle-like clusters of flesh covered in dark almost black skin that unsurprisingly gives an intense, bold meaty texture with a sweet fruity pop.
Sugar beets (or beetroot) are also widely grown in Italy. These much sweeter variations to the common beetroot are actually grown for their sugar and each one can contain over 20% sugar at a time. Cultivated on mass in the same way that sugar cane is these handy, versatile, sweet veggies even look like sweets sometimes as some varieties have the red and white streaks of candy canes. Steam, Boil or roast these to add some sweetness and dynamic flavour to your other vegetables.
Closer to the equator in the south, the sunlight is relentless which makes it an ideal spot to grow citrus fruits, so lucrative in fact that the mafia used to operate the farms here. You will no doubt be familiar with oranges, lemons and limes but there is much more out here than just the generic versions that wind up in the fruit aisle at Tesco. Italy has fantastic sun filled variants of all your favourites and more. The sharp and tangy blood orange is grown here as is the lesser-known sweet lemon. This variety grown on the Amalfi coast lacks the bitterness usually associated with the fruit and so sweet that it is eaten by the locals like an apple. The giant lemons you may be seeing at the fruit stalls aren’t lemons at all and are actually citrons. These are the ancient ancestors of all the citrus fruits and are as tasty as they are versatile. Their thick rind can be fried and used to accompany salad and its center is often candied or made into a syrup for drinks.
The dry heat here also makes idea weather for growing nuts. Italy is a big exporter of chestnuts and you may spot people with roasters out in the marketplace, helping the nuts escape their exterior. Hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios are also on the podium and you will find them in pastes, flour and cream form all around the markets too. There is no place better than the bustling square of Piazza della Frutta in Padua where the markets have been heaving with fresh produce for decades. Take something away that you’ve never tried, but be aware that the Italians don’t like you handling their wares so keep your hands in your pockets and let them pick the best ones for you.