Mangia Bene, Viva Bene!

It’s autumn in Europe. In Rome “autunno”!  The seasons here run to the timing of a well oiled calendar. 

The first of September brings fallen leaves ruby and bronze, the air is chilly against pale skies and the long balmy evenings are cut short. But that’s not all, the plump array of fruit and vegetables laden in markets and grocery stores are about to change.  This is one of the many reasons I love Italy. They certainly know how to eat.

I’m not talking about the culinary expertise you see on Master Chef. No, I’m talking about the two resolute aspects of any Italian kitchen. Eating local (“cibo di zero kilometri”) and eating in season (“di stagione”). Seasonal eating here is a staple part of the Italian culture.  It ensures the food is fresh, ripe and bursting full of nutrients. Rich in colour with fairy tale like flavours, the offerings from supermarkets to local vendors are intoxicating. Mushrooms woken gently that morning and coaxed from their beds, zucchini flowers laid in rows, tomatoes which taste like strawberries, and an array of jewel coloured berries, herbs, edible flowers, fruit and shiny vegetables. Even the most ‘green’ adverse eater will be charmed into their intoxicatingly delicious lair.

Organic food here, ‘biodynamic” is a way of life. It’s not elitist and it’s not expensive. The most basic Roman grocery list demands the right to fragrant vine-ripened tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella dripping in its own liquid, exquisite fruits and cured meats and cheeses of the highest quality. The clear lack of fast food (and I’m not talking about gelato…that’s another food group completely!!), shows the love affair all Italians have with eating well.

“Si mangia bene, si viva bene!” Eat well to live well.

Maybe the reason lies in the Italian methods of farming. Farming here is still family based. Generation after generation still tend to small family pastures. The soil is an investment in the future; it’s thoughtfully and carefully cultivated for both today and the next generation. Food is grown in small crops, lovingly tended to by hand. They are proud of what they grow. Their produce represents their family, their region and ultimately their country. Different areas are renowned for their produce. Go to Sicily for ruby red baby tomatoes, Datterini and Pachino, almost too cute to eat. Lemons from Liguria, and olives pressed into golden oil from Campagnia. Each product is created with loving attention, tenderly nurtured from farm to kitchen table.

You won’t find an Italian eating on the street here. People sit down to eat. Ceremoniously, they take the time to appreciate the sensory journey. I love these aspects of Italian life. There is a saying here “Si mangia bene, si viva bene!” Eat well to live well.  It’s the basic foundation of Wellness. Love food! The relationship here with food is inextricably linked to lifestyle, to good health, to community, to family, to social conviviality.  It sounds beautiful, right?

So while I sadly wave good bye to the last zucchini flowers (stuffed with fresh ricotta and herbs and ever so gently fried), marinated eggplants, and the sweetest peaches and figs I have ever tasted, I wait with anticipation for the gastronomic spectacle the colder months have to offer.

Fried artichokes anyone?

Buon Apetito Tutti!

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