Nothing says autumn like pumpkin, and you can bet the Italians have devised a number of incredible recipes to showcase the subtly sweet flavor of this favorite vegetable. One of the best dishes that incorporates pumpkin is tortelli di zucca, ravioli filled with a creamy pumpkin mash and topped with butter and sage so the flavor of the squash is not overpowered. Risotto alla zucca is another classic, with expertly cooked rice and topped with Parmigiano cheese to balance the flavors.
Fragrant truffles, which come in both black and white varieties, can be smelled at many establishments around the city in the autumn months. This prized member of the tuber family must be harvested with carefully trained truffle dogs who unearth this precious food. Truffles are served grated on a number of dishes, such as tagliolini al tartufo, a long and thin egg-based pasta served with melted butter and a healthy dose of black truffle shavings. You can also find uovo al tegamino al tartufo, a fried egg topped with grated white truffles.
Porcini mushrooms are a delightfully meaty variety that make an appearance in big crates outside of restaurants, beckoning mushroom-fiends inside to sample this seasonal ingredient. It is a versatile food that can be enjoyed in so many ways: grilled, incorporated into pastas, soups or risotto, or featured alongside other seasonal ingredients. A truly hearty way to enjoy this mushroom is in a zuppa di funghi porcini e ceci, a stew with porcini mushrooms and chickpeas often found at countryside restaurants. Of course, you can’t go wrong with tagliatelle ai funghi porcini, featuring decadently chewy and eggy tagliatelle pasta with a creamy mushroom sauce, mushroom pieces and topped with parsley.
Radicchio is a beautiful and bitter leaf vegetable that adds a dash of violet to many dishes. Although bitter and somewhat spicy when it is raw, the vegetable becomes more sweet and mellow when cooked. Radicchio and sharp cheeses are a match made in foodie heaven so you’ll often find it prepared alongside gorgonzola or taleggio in dishes such as pasta con radicchio, taleggio e speck, featuring salty pieces of ham incorporated into the pasta. The vegetable also makes an excellent side dish when it is prepared alla griglia, or grilled.
The bitter leaves of the broccoli plant make the most divine side dish from autumn through to spring. Italians are experts at preparing vegetables that are so delicious, you’re surprised that they’re also so healthy and natural. Broccoletti, otherwise known in English as broccoli rabe, are found in the back of nearly every menu in the city under the ‘Contorni’ heading: the ingredient is first boiled and then sautéed in a pan with garlic and red pepper for extra flavor and a bit of kick. If you’re lucky, you’ll occasionally find it incorporated into first or main courses, such as pasta con broccoletti e pecorino, kicking the traditional cacio e pepe up a notch with this leafy green vegetable.
Walking around the city at this time of year, you’re sure to catch the scent of roasted chestnuts, prepared right on the street. However, you can also find chestnuts expertly cooked into savory or sweet dishes at restaurants. A delicious way to eat them is in a zuppa di castagne e farro, a stew with chopped chestnuts and chewy spelt for a warming meal. But perhaps the most famous way to eat chestnuts in Italy is as a decadent dessert, a recipe borrowed from the French. Marron glacé features chestnuts cooked in a simple syrup lightly infused with vanilla to produce a subtle and elegantly flavored food that melts in your mouth and provides the perfectly satisfying end to your meal.