I’m not quite sure. I’m getting ready for a trip to southern Italy, which means a lot of armchair food travel. Seriously a lot, like to the point of such visual and verbal surfeit that I feel like I’ve already eaten my way through Campania and Rome.
I’ve repeatedly daydreamed my way through Fred Plotkin’s Italy for the Gourmet Traveller, which I consider the bible for such things. Also David Downie’s exhaustive Food Wine Rome; Elizabeth Minchilli’s elegant blog; and whatever little electronic alleyways I stumble upon, such as Amy Sherman’s 9 Best Things to Eat in Campania. (BTW, Elizabeth leads amazing food tours and trips to the Slow Food Salone.)
Campania, which Victor Hazan tells me is “essential Italy,” promises the best tomatoes, eggplants, hazelnuts (Avellino), and lemons (Amalfi, Capri). Ever. And Rome is the capital of artichokes and puntarelle, a kind of chicory.
But when exactly will I find these mouth-watering treats? Not one food guide I’ve looked at talks about season. Is there one you know that does?
I’m going this month. Imagine heading to the source of Insalata Caprese and discovering I’ve arrived a month too early. I live and eat in a Mediterranean climate, but wonder how much the latitudinal and longitudinal differences tweak the timing in Italy. Here in California, artichokes are best in the spring and chicories are milder in cool weather. How are they in early summer in Rome? In June, will I find ripe tomatoes drying in doorways to concentrate their flavors or Percoca peaches to cut and drop into a glass of wine? Based on what I know about seasonal nuances at home, I doubt it.
Or do Italians offer, as we sadly sometimes do here, second-rate, out-of-season versions of their regional specialties, tourist beware? I wish more travel food writers (or editors?) would realize that when is as important as where to find something.
To be fair, David touches upon the seasons here and there, and you can piece them together if you search Elizabeth’s blog archive by month. But it sure would be nice if there was a drop down menu or a little list at the start of a chapter. And not just for crops, for local dishes, too.
What will I find in Italy during the last two weeks in June? Stay tuned.