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Winter Food in Italy: What to Expect

Italy the Art of Good Living

A country that is known for its food and its love for food, Italy has a plethora of food and drink that are meant to match the change in seasons. A good example is how food during the summer is usually composed of light and quick dishes – nothing too heavy is usually served or eaten so as not to get lethargic on hot, humid days, and dishes that require a long time to cook by boiling or baking are generally avoided since it can get unbearably warm in the kitchen.

In the winter months, however, especially as you travel further up north, this treatment on food takes a complete about-face. Instead of summer’s light pastas, salads, and sandwiches, it’s time to bring out the meaty, creamy pasta sauces, such as the Bolognese or carbonara, the thick soups and stews, as well as the smoked meats which are now favored as the season’s comfort food. After all, it’s winter, it’s cold, and the dishes are meant to be hearty and keep you nice and warm as the snow falls outside.

Before we proceed, however, a word of caution for the calorie-conscious traveler: while it is still entirely possible to stick to your diet, thanks to special menus at hotels and some big restaurants, you may want to suspend your diet and stop counting calories for a short while as you’ll be missing out on some lovely Italian cuisine otherwise.

With that out of the way, here’s a quick list of just some of the winter fare you will most likely encounter while in Italy during the winter months, all with slight regional variations, depending on which cities you will be visiting.

Bagna Cauda

A dish that is typical of the Piedmont region, the bagna cauda is basically a fondue-like dish that is usually made of garlic, anchovies, butter, and olive oil. Easy enough to prepare, the ingredients are made to simmer in a pot until everything forms into a nice paste. It is served piping hot, and is used as a dip for vegetables or bread (or just about anything you want to dip in it, really). Take note, though, that this is a delicious, but PUNGENT dish and it would do you well to just order it at the local trattoria instead of trying to make it yourself. You may also want to have a mint or two after diving into it.

Ossobuco

A Milanese specialty, it is a dish that uses cross-cut veal shanks that are braised with broth and vegetables, and then served on top of hot, steaming risotto. It is common for diners to scoop out the bone marrow and spread it over some bread, a practice which results in an “ossobuco” which translates to “hollow bone”.

Ribollita and Minestrone

A soup that is a popular dish in Tuscany, ribollita is mostly composed of vegetables, with different kinds of cabbage, beans, onions and carrots. Meanwhile, minestrone is another type of soup that has spelt, lentils, broad beans or chick peas, and then flavored with what would be Italy’s equivalent of bacon, the salt cured and spiced pancetta.

Polenta

A staple food item for cold days, it is made of hulled and crushed grain that can be boiled into a thick, creamy porridge, usually by adding butter and water, broth, or milk. It can also be made to set in a container before being taken out, sliced, and eaten as a sort of pudding. It is a good substitute for pasta, potatoes, or rice because it can be rather filling and heavy to the tummy.

Panettone

And of course, with Christmas drawing so near, let’s not forget about the delicious Panettone which is ubiquitous all throughout the country during the Holiday season! This Christmas pastry (though it is not uncommon to also serve it during New Year’s) is a type of sweet bread that originated from Milan. Its texture is fluffy, and it usually contains candied orange, lemon zest, and raisins. It is served in slices, just like a cake, and is particularly nice when served with a liqueur such as amaretto, or crema di mascarpone (a sauce made of mascarpone cheese, eggs, and candied fruits), or zabaione (the Italian version of eggnog). It is normally then washed down with either sweet, warm beverages, or sweet variants of wine.

Other food items that are popular during the cold months include beets and winter squash, mushrooms and truffles (products of the autumn harvests), smoked or cured game meat, soups made of potatoes or farro and other starchy items, as well as chestnuts which are sold roasted by vendors on the streets and is a favorite winter snack among Italians.

So this season, prepare your palette and just enjoy the hearty Italian fare, capped off with a warm digestivo, of course!

panettone

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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