Welcome back to our monthly appointment with produce seasonality. November and its crisp weather and the tail end of the harvest season provides our bodies with sensational fruit and vegetables whose nutrients will sustain us through the colder months. Here’s our brand new list of what fruit and vegetables are in season in November in Italy.
They’re back! Not the amazing variety pictured above, which will start appearing in February and peak in May, but the first violet, spiny artichokes are on their way to our plates, ready to be quartered, dredged and fried, or stuffed with mint, garlic and braised with olive oil and parsley as they do in Rome; or stewed as complement to virtually every starch and protein available.
Thanks to its earthy, rich and sweet flavor and distinctive vibrant color, beetroots lend themselves to a variety of both sweet and savory dishes. Available in Italy between August and May, locals also use the beet greens sauteéd with olive olive and garlic for a delicious vitamin boost!
This miniature, compact version of cabbage boasts a sweet, delicate, almost nutty flavor. They make their appearance on market stalls between October and March and grow in multiple rows along a thick, central stalk. A true autumn and winter staple, the sprouts can be mixed with fried guanciale (cured pig’s jowl–somewhat similar to pancetta), maple syrup and black pepper as a nice seasonal power mix that keeps the cold season at bay and a perfect accompaniment to a Thanksgiving turkey.
Different varieties of cabbage are available all year round. Cabbage comes in many forms and shapes can be flat, conical or round; the heads compact or loose; the leaves curly or plain. The round, crinkle-leafed Savoy cabbage is considered culinarily superior. Essential to good soups or a bollito misto (boiled meats and veggies), cabbage lends a nutty, rich flavor to all it comes in contact with.
Cardoon is the lesser-known relative of the artichoke and considered a delicacy in Mediterranean cuisine. Like artichokes, cardoon grows into a towering and spiny thistle-like plant, but with cardoons you eat the stems, and not the flower buds. In season in Italy between the end of October and Mid December, get your fill of “gobbi” while they’re around. It’s a staple with Piedmontese ‘bagna cauda’or hot garlic dip.
Super food par excellence, cavolo nero (lancinato kale, Tuscan kale, black kale or dinosaur kale) is the popular loose-leafed cabbage from Tuscany whose leaves are a very dark green, almost black, with pleasantly tangy, bitter flavor and a sweet aftertaste. It is a popular ingredient in many classic Italian soups like Ribollita or Zuppa di Magro and is essential for Minestrone.
The unsung hero of the vegetable world is available year round but is at its best from September to May. Knobby, odd-shaped celeriac is recognizeable in the market as the weird root with rhino-tough skin. The surprise is the subtle, celery-like flavor, with nutty overtones. Try it as mash, in big-flavored, slow-cooked stews, or in its classic form, and as they do en France, as a remoulade.
Fennel’s typical bulb is delightful eaten raw, with a texture that is crisp and the flavor assertive with anise or liquorice-like overtones. When cooked, fennel bulbs taste sweeter and the texture is softer, almost buttery. Available May to December, the fronds of the fennel bulb are also a welcome aromatic addition to Sicilian pasta dishes and other Mediterranean preparations.
Although more closely related to garlic, leeks taste more like a mild onion but with a hint of sweetness. Available all year round, but at their best from September to March, leeks are very versatile and work well cooked in various recipes like frittata, julienned and deep fried as garnish and caramelized over roast meats.
Italian pumpkin season runs from October to late December. Local varieties include the sweet Mantovana, which goes in the filling of typical tortelli from Modena; Turbante turco (turban); Marina di Chioggia, knobbly skin, and sweet orange pulp; Grigia di Bologna, grey skin and orange pulp, often used in jams; and the giant Quintale, Italy’s largest variety.
From November through February Romans enjoy their puntarelle, crunchy greens which are a variety of Catalonian chicory. Since they grow nowhere else in Italy, Romans take a certain pride in this very particular side dish. The sprouts and shoots (in Roman, ‘punte’ – tips – shifts to puntarelle) are cut lengthwise into long, thin strips and soaked in acidulated ice-cold water for an hour. This allows them to curl and become juicier. The dressing of olive oil, vinegar, crushed garlic and puréed anchovies is the dressing intended for this particular chicory, and does a great job cutting the fattiness of typical cucina romana classics it comes paired with.
Belonging to the dandelion family and available in Italian markets between late September and May, salsify is also known as the oyster plant because of its oystery taste when cooked. The root is similar in appearance to a long, thin tapered parsnip, with creamy white flesh and a thick, dark brown-black skin.
In season between November and April, the shallot, in Italian scalogno, is related to the onion, but grows in clusters, are smaller than onions, and have finer layers. The flavor of a shallot is much milder and sweeter, their lower water content means they need to be cooked more gently than onions.
The bitter, earthy flavor of spinaci is distinctive and particularly complements dairy products and eggs. Available between April and December, the milder, young leaves can be eaten raw in a salad, while the older ones are usually cooked (spinach has one of the shortest cooking times of all vegetables – two minutes max!). Watch out, since it also reduces dramatically in volume during cooking.
You can buy winter turnips all year-round, although peak season is from October to February. Creamy-white with lovely purple, red or greenish upper part where the taproot has been exposed to sunlight. Before the arrival of the potato, turnips were one of the main sources of sustenance for Italian peasants. Turnip leaves or ‘greens’ (locally called cime di rapa) can also be eaten boiled, steamed, stir-fried. Orecchiette with Turnip greens are a typical Puglia specialty.
At their best between September and November included – crisp and juicy or more yielding, according to variety – apples are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as fiber.
Better catch them while they last, which is a small window between November and February. This sweetest variety of tangerine is sweet and tangy, contains no seeds and is recognisable by its loose, baggy bright orange skin. Clementine segments can be eaten on their own or dipped in melted chocolate. The zest can be candied or used to make “mandarinetto” liqueur, a close relative of limoncello.
The cultivation of the domesticated grape began 6,000 years ago in the Near East, with the earliest archeological evidence for a dominant position of wine-making dating from 8,000 years ago, in Georgia. According to FAO, roughly 76,000 square kilometers of the world are cultivated in grapevines and this planted area is increasing by about 2% each year. As a wine lover, this makes me very happy. But wine grapes – known as noble grapes – and common table grapes are two very distinct fruits! In season from late September to January – according to variety – table grape cultivars tend to have large, sometimes seedless fruit with relatively thin skin. Wine grapes are instead smaller, usually with seeds, in tighter clusters with relatively thicker skins, which os a desirable characteristic in winemaking. Wine grapes also tend to be very sweet: they are harvested at the time when their juice is approximately one fourth sugar by weight.
In season from September through to January, pears boast sweet, granular flesh which is delicate and that bruises easily when ripe, so always buy slightly underripe (they should be firm but not hard). Pears ripen from the inside out! Great paired with aged cheese…
Though originally from the Orient, you’ll see plenty of persimmon trees in the Italian countryside. The actual fruits – locally called ‘Loti’ or ‘Kaki’ – are quite firm until they ripen, at which point they become voluptuously soft, with a silky mouthfeel and the weight and texture of a water balloon. The many varieties of persimmon ripen from October through March. Ripe persimmons are very delicate, and you’ll see them in Italian markets carefully packed in padded styrofoam trays or mesh.
Pomegranates have always been highly prized for their flavor, but their recent emergence as a highly nutritious superfood, packed with antioxidant vitamins, has made them even more popular. Available as the colder months set in, pomegranates appear in Italian markets in November in their shiny orbs, blushed with red or yellow. Inside, scores of edible tiny white seeds are held in jewel-like ruby sacs of sweet, juicy flesh. The sacs themselves are packed tightly in a bitter, pale yellow pith.
When ripe, quince are very fragrant, with smooth, golden yellow skin. Their hard, bitter flesh is used almost exclusively for cooking, rather than eaten raw. Once cooked, the flesh develops a deeper flavor and turns a golden pink. Quinces contain high level of pectin, which makes them great for making jellies, jams and other preserves, such as the Italian quince paste, cotognata, which is often served with cheese. Quinces are in season from late September through the end of November.
What fruit and vegetables are in season where you live?
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.