You’re probably thinking how come obesity is rare in Italy with all that pasta and other mouthwatering dishes, right?
Well, for one, their diet is rich in fish, poultry, beans, olive oil, whole grains, dairy, red wine, fruits, and vegetables. Yes, vegetables – not just Italian vegetables but even veggies that came from other parts of the world but the Italians somehow manage to create amazing dishes with.
It also turns out that although Italians enjoy the experience of eating (they do spend hours over lunch, dinner, or even a coffee break), they don’t eat or drink excessively. But rather they take their sweet time relaxing and socializing – while dining. Mealtime for them is about spending time with loved ones.
If we’re enjoying Italian foods so much, perhaps it’s not a bad idea either to adapt their style of dining leisurely. Italian food is not just limited to pizzas, risotto, or pasta, there are a number of amazing Italian dishes that are definitely worth trying. You may perhaps start with some vegetable recipes that we shared at the end of this article.
Let’s focus for the meantime on Italian vegetables that you’re maybe not familiar with. Or perhaps familiar with but had no idea that they’re native to Italy. You can add them to your list of vegetables to eat for a healthier diet. It never hurts to know as many vegetables as you could, say Indian vegetables or Mexican vegetables. That will only mean that you have a wider selection of what veggies to include (or not to include) in your meal plans.
Types of Italian Vegetables
Agretti or Salsola soda, also known as friar’s beard, is an annual, succulent plant that grows into small shrubs with fleshy green leaves with either green or red stems. Its young leaves have a crunch to it with a mildly salty and minerally taste. When cooked, its taste is quite similar to spinach.
It’s rich in vitamins A and B, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Its fiber contents help in supporting bowel function and aiding digestion. Agretti is also good for supporting metabolism, boosting the immunity system, and helping blood purification.
Cardoon, also called the artichoke thistle, is a thistle that tastes like the giant artichoke, only bitter. Its stalks or ribs are blanched and then braised in cooking liquid. Its flower buds are edible as well. Christmas lunch in the Abruzzo region of Italy traditionally starts with a soup of cardoon.
Cardoons contain protein, fiber, carbohydrates, potassium, calcium, vitamin C, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and iron. It may help in preventing insomnia, reducing the risk of colon and rectal cancer, aiding digestion, and promoting mental function and normal motor skills.
Cavolo nero is a hardy winter vegetable that originated in Italy. It’s also called Tuscan Kale or black kale. It is a brassica that is very similar to kale with a striking dark green color. It can be steamed, boiled, or sauteed after it’s chopped and shredded with the tough woody stalks removed. It has a slightly bitter flavor with a note of sweetness.
Cavolo nero is a good source of fiber, calcium, vitamins A, C, and K, lutein, and B vitamins. It also contains manganese, iron, and copper. It can help in boosting eye health, maintaining normal bones, aiding the immune system. Its folic acid contents help in supporting a healthy pregnancy.
Costoluto fiorentino tomato
Costoluto fiorentino tomatoes are misshapen, heavily lobed, and ribbed beef tomatoes common around Florence. This tomato is very fleshy with a rich flavor. It’s high in sugar and acid which is a great flavor combination.
Like other tomatoes, it’s rich in nutrients and antioxidants, particularly lycopene. The Italians consider Costoluto Fiorentino as one of the best-tasting tomatoes out there. They’re great for slicing or preparing sauces.
Escarole is part of the chicory family, so it’s related to endive and radicchio. It appears leafier than kale and a bunch looks like a head of lettuce with short, wide, and wavy-edge leaves. It has a fresh and vegetal with a somewhat bitter taste. The inner and lighter-colored leaves can taste somewhat sweeter than the darker and greener outer leaves.
Escarole is packed with fiber, copper, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K. It may help in promoting gut health, supporting eye health, and reducing inflammation. Its vitamin K content is vital in keeping the normal blood clotting function and in regulating calcium levels in the heart and bones.
Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio
Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio is a variety of tomato that is grown in the southern region of Campania. It is one of the oldest and the most common variety of tomatoes grown in the region. It has an oval and elongated shape with a pointed tip. These tomatoes are commonly hung up in bunches (tied with hemp string), the ripest ones are left to dry for weeks then cut into pieces and stored in glass jars to make traditional preserves.
Piennolo tomatoes have a distinctive sweet taste and aroma that intensifies and becomes even more concentrated as you let it dry out. Its flavor is directly related to the soil where you grow them, they surely benefited from the rich lava soil’s high concentration of minerals.
Pomodoro di Pachino
Pomodoro di Pachino is an Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for tomatoes from Sicily, Italy. You’re probably familiar with cherry tomatoes, which is one of the four varieties of Pomodoro di Pachino called Ciliegino. There is also Costoluto, a large salad tomato that is quite similar to beefsteak tomato, Tondo Iiscio which is round and smooth, and Grappolo or grape tomato.
They generally have a sweet, juicy, and vibrant red color. Depending on the variety the taste, aroma, pulp texture, and use vary. They have a high concentration of vitamins C, A, and E. These tomatoes are also rich in antioxidants like lycopene and flavonoids.
Radicchio di Verona
Radicchio di Verona is a leafy vegetable that belongs to the chicory group. It’s classified according to the time of harvest – early or late. It has a spherical shape with rounded leaves that close in autumn to later form a full and compact heart. Its main rib is white while the leaf limb is red. It has a somewhat bitter taste with a crunchy texture.
Radicchio di Verona is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. It’s good for relieving constipation, facilitating digestion and liver function, stimulating bile secretion, and may also help with diabetes, obesity, and insomnia.
Radicchio Rosso di Treviso
Radicchio Rosso di Treviso PGI is exclusively grown in a small area of North-Eastern Italy. They use natural spring water and a similar process to bring out Radicchio Rosso di Treviso’s particular color and taste. It has bright red leaves with a pleasant slight bitter flavor.
It contains fiber, calcium, iron, cellulose, and antioxidants. It helps in bone metabolism, balancing blood pressure, facilitating digestion, bile secretion, and urine elimination, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, and fighting constipation.
Zucca Mantovana is the symbolic vegetable of the city of Mantua. Its characteristics and uniqueness earned it a Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionale (PAT) recognition in 2004. In addition to its indistinguishable shape, it also has a sweet taste with a firm texture.
Because of its sweet aromatic flavor, it’s a great ingredient to use with fatty cheeses, strong-flavored fish, tasty meat, grains, and polenta. It is mainly water but it’s low-calorie and rich in vitamins and potassium, and magnesium.
Italian Vegetable Dishes to Try
You can’t go wrong with Insalata Caprese, which literally translates to salad from Capri, because it’s super easy, quick, and simply a refreshing salad to put together. Of course, the source for the best ingredients for it’s really the key to an amazing Insalata Caprese.
Simply arrange the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves on your best platter, and sprinkle with oregano, arugula, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Simply season with salt and pepper.
One of the best-loved classic Italian vegetable dishes is the eggplant parmigiana. It’s hard to find someone who dislikes this dish. Even meat lovers hardly miss the meat in this dish. It’s loaded with cheesy and savory goodness from parmesan and mozzarella and slick and bright flavor from fresh tomato sauce and herbs.
Yes, there are quite a few steps to follow – you’ll have to prepare the sauce, the eggplant, and then assemble them together, but it’s all worth it. You’ll see. Think of it as if you’re making a pasta-less vegetarian lasagna.
Finocchi in padella
Finocchi in padella which literally translates to fennel in a pan is an aromatic side dish that is so simple and quick to make you can whip it up in minutes! As long as you have fresh fennel in the fridge, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and pots of fresh herbs somewhere in your garden then you’re pretty set.
Simply saute the fennel in olive oil, garlic, and thyme. Let it cook first, if it helps you can add a bit of water, don’t worry it’ll evaporate as the fennel cooks. Once it’s tender enough, take it off the heat and add the grated cheese and breadcrumbs, and season with salt and pepper. This traditional Italian dish originated from Molise.
There are actually many versions of Tiella, a layered vegetable dish, depending on which regions in Italy is it from. There are those that have mussels in it while some encase theirs in pasty. This particular version is purely vegetables with just breadcrumbs, no pastry either. This Tiella can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Aside from great vegetable dishes, Italians do have some of the best breakfast foods, too. Check them out and see if the list sparks some ideas for a morning treat!
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