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Italy - vegetables in winter!

(11 Posts)
Janek Mon 27-Jul-15 12:37:35

We are going to northwest tuscany for Christmas this year - I know that veg is much more seasonable in Italy than it is over here, I wonder if anyone could let me know what kind of vegetables might be available at that time of year.

We are vegetarian, if that makes a difference, and I am presuming that we will still be able to get the usual pizzeria-pizzas, delicious fresh pasta from a pasta shop etc we usually can when we go at more clement times of year.

Any advice gratefully received!

Izlet Fri 31-Jul-15 22:30:42

Well I'm a bit further north but you'll find all the brassicas, various types of squash and pumpkin, fennel, some root veg but not the variety you get in the uk and plenty of oranges. There is a wide variety of leafy green veg like Swiss chard (coste) and other dark leaves, plus Tuscany and Umbria have a wealth of dried pulses. I'm struggling to remember any more as in this heat winter is but a distant memory!

Good luck in Tuscany as a vegetarian, they do eat a lot of pulses but red meat and sausage was pretty ubiquitous. For eg. In ribollita you will likely find bacon etc. I found it a bit of a challenge avoiding meat and fish when eating out unless I lived on salad, pizza and panzanella, but I lived on the coast. It might be different inland or indeed somewhere frequented by British tourists.

Janek Sat 01-Aug-15 08:26:25

Thanks so much for that, squash and fennel sound good, in fact now i think about it, i wonder if what we can get will be strikingly similar to what we get in our abel and cole veg ox at home anyway, what with most of it coming from italy...

Thanks for the warning re vegetarian food in restaurants, luckily i have had a life-long love affair with pizza, so always have that when we eat out in italy.

Am i right in assuming i won't be able to get an aubergine or courgettes or anything like that? What about spinach?!?

Atomik Sat 01-Aug-15 08:42:48

I live in a poorish part of the North. Small, very rural town. Never not been able to lay my hands on fresh aubergines, or courgettes year round in the big supermarkets (esselungua, carrefour etc.).

I'm not a fan of fresh spinach unless it's the baby stuff for salads, so off the top of my head can't remember if it is in the fresh section year round, but there's the frozen section with spinach and chard in tidy small squares for easy defrosting. In the freezers there's pretty much all the other basic veg you can typically buy frozen in the UK.

Except sweetcorn. Only once have I found frozen sweetcorn and that was one supermarket in Milan, more than a decade ago. Never seen it since. So am doomed to half used tins of the stuff always littering my fridge.

Janek Sat 01-Aug-15 09:16:43

That's interesting atomik, we usually use the weekly market or the veg shop in the village, where things have been unavailable due to seasonality (i presume), we have occasionally used the small Conad in the next town, which has fairly limited stock, there is a much bigger Conad in the town beyond that, that I have never even been inside! Sounds like the large supermarket may (not that surprisingly) be my friend.

Any other tips for what we should do at that time of year? My ILs have an apartment there and we've been lots of times before, just never at Christmas. We are very excited at the prospect. It's in Lunigiana.

Izlet Sat 01-Aug-15 17:37:08

Aubergines are summer veg, as are courgettes. However lately we've been getting courgettes all year round, probably grown under glass in Sicily.

Conad is grim, I've never found anything I've wanted to buy in one, but that may just be down our way. If in Tuscany you should be able to locate a Coop nearby, Tuscany is awash with them (remnants of the region's communist past - yes even supermarkets are political in Italy!) and they usually have quite a good choice and lots of local km 0 produce.

Sweetcorn is only sold in tins but all you need to do with leftovers is drain, rinse and freeze. Or at least it works for us. smile

Izlet Sat 01-Aug-15 17:52:53

I don't know the area well but there will probably be a traditional market at Christmas, plus most medieval places have local processions or events. There will probably be an abundance of sweet things and cakes, possibly a local panettone type cake. Other than that it's shopping shopping and more shopping.

Christmas food is usually fish or poultry based (eg. Pasta with salmon for starter and capon for main), but you should be nonetheless able to get hold of tortellini di magro and if you go to a restaurant and explain you don't eat meat or fish they should manage to rustle up something. Off menu is never a problem in Italy. Don't bother saying you're vegetarian as you risk getting something with ham or salame in it as oddly enough it us not considered meat. Also there are fish eating "vegetarians" just like everywhere else so some chefs get confused. Also easier to list what you don't eat so you don't just end up with salad. I remember many years ago a waiter being shocked that I could eat pasta. He obviously equated vegetarians with rabbits. confused

Atomik Sat 01-Aug-15 18:51:53


I would pop into the comune and see if there are any "sagre" going on nearby. They are festivals, very Italian, quite diverse and fun... if you like that sort of thing. In my neck of the woods there is usually something going on all year round, you get the "festa della pig", festa della mushrooms" etc. Each village has one with its own theme. Around xmas in the prettier/posher bits of the country you might find something really fab going on. I love sagre, they have never got old for me.

The library and the local paper is a good place to have a peek for flyers or news of something interesting about to happen locally. I still enjoy the religous and "dressed up like we are medieval" processions. To my shame most of my entertainment here is watching American telly on Sky, but the above I will drag myself off the sofa for. Fog/heat wave/mosquito levels/downpours permitting.

Ohh...look a site about sagre, exhibitions, festivals and markets in Toscana ! Nearer the time take a look and see what is coming up. If you don't read Italian just copy the link, go to google translate and whack the link it... it's not perfect, but fine for getting the gist of what's what. Still worth checking things out on the ground though in case something got missed of the site. Internet penetration is fairly low here compared to the UK, so the site might not include all your options.

And one for xmas markets... looks like one near you, no ?

Janek Sun 02-Aug-15 08:03:50

That's great, thanks for those websites atomik, I'll have a look.

Interesting re supermarkets izlet, i'll see if I can find an alternative to the dreaded Conad (whose name never fails to make us snigger), there is a newish Lidl, but that just seems so very, very wrong, I'll look into co-ops.

Janek Sun 02-Aug-15 08:14:54

Just realised my response made it look like i've ignored all other advice, i haven't, i promise, it is all gratefully received, and i will be revisiting it all come december.

Atomik Sun 02-Aug-15 09:28:12

LIDL Italia is actually really really good for a range of frozen veg that you might not see in the other big chains. Chinese mixed veg ! (be still my overexcited belly) And all the bog standard stuff, but cheaper. The fresh stuff is usually quite a small range and I think it goes off a bit quick.

I can see why shopping there might feel v.v. "wrong" if you are on a holiday to Bella Italia and feel like it should be a bit more "not just like home" than that.

Round my parts Esselungua and Ipercoop have the best fresh veg... although I refuse to drive 10k to the coop unless we also need other stuff from the shopping centre. It's good, but not that good, and Carrefour will do. Never did like Conad when I lived in Milan. It wasn't exactly like Spar in the 70s.... but it had a Spar70s vibe about it.

The romantic wandering around of open air markets with basket in hand works fine in autumn, spring and summer... as long as you are resiliant in terms of sharp old lady elbows and shopping trollies running over your toes, ours is like a rugger scrum sometimes...but in winter the normal, weekly market can be cold, damp, grey, drab and much smaller/subdued than the rest of the year.

And hey, as consolation... proper big supermarkets are the authentic Italian experience these days. It's where most of us under 70 do the bulk of our shopping. LIDL won the supermarket of the year award and everything. So is totally "authentic Italian" approved. grin

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