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Snippets from the Italian Scene
On Seasonality

A while back I wrote about the profound impact supermarkets are having upon food purchasing in Italy. One aspect of purchasing where their influence is less than one might expect is the seasonality of Italian fruits and vegetables -- though economies of scale make it possible for the supermarket chains to import out-of-season produce and fruit, for example South American peaches in January, most Italians still buy produce that's in season locally.

Why? A number of reasons, though the primary one, I think, is that what has ripened naturally tastes better, and Italians will go to great lengths to seek it out. The managers of the supermarkets know this; they also know that there are still traditional greengrocers, and that truck gardeners drive to town daily to set up stands in the various outdoor markets of Italian cities -- a consumer who isn't satisfied by the flavor of the produce in the supermarket will have no qualms about going to one of these other outlets. The upshot of this situation is that the supermarkets also buy locally, and try to have things that are at least as fresh, ripe and tasty as those of their competitors. They do have some exotic out-of-season produce, because there's always some demand, but the vast majority is locally grown. And therefore seasonal.

Speaking of seasonality, Jan recently wrote: I planted a little sweet basil in my garden at the beginning of summer, but the weather was wet and cold and the plants died. A couple of weeks ago I bought lots of floundering basil plants thinking I'd be lucky if I got any fresh basil at all this summer! Well, now, I have about 10 healthy bushy sweet basil plants and I am wondering what else to use the basil in besides pesto sauce! I just wondered if you had any tips on ways to use and enjoy fresh basil.

Thanks in advance.

Pesto is the most obvious choice; while it works well with pasta it is also an excellent condiment for steamed or boiled green vegetables (or for that matter eggplant). Looking beyond pesto, fresh basil, washed and coarsely shredded (or finely minced) is wonderful in all sorts of things, from spaghetti with a light tomato sauce to insalata di riso (rice salad, which is excellent picnic food). During the summer I put basil wherever I might put parsley in the winter. Do keep in mind is that it looses its flavor with cooking, so it should be added just before the dish is removed from the fire, or even afterward.

One of the nicest things about basil is that it can make a cool dish seem even cooler. Florence is now in the grips of a tremendous heat wave, and those of us unlucky enough to be here move as little as possible. When it gets like this, rice with basil and tomatoes is quite nice.

A presto,
Kyle Phillips
Webweaver, About Italian Cuisine

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