As September flows into October the days shorten, temperatures drop off, and all sorts of new foods come to the market, from apples to chestnuts to black leaf kale. Italian cooking reflects these changes, becoming richer and heartier as fall advances into winter. I've arranged these favorites so as to follow the season.
One of the nicest things about autumn in Tuscany is Schiacciata con l'Uva, an astonishingly rich, sinfully juicy wine grape pie whose country roots are clearly revealed by the dough and the crunchiness of the grape seeds. This is a fairly elegant, city version, in which the traditional lard and honey have been replaced by olive oil and sugar.
Apples come hot on the heels of grapes in the fall, and the combination of pork and apples is universal. This recipe calls for a whole pork loin, and will take about an hour and a half to prepare.
Fall brings rains in Italy, and if they're abundant, they in turn bring mushrooms, especially Porcini, which are wonderful in risotto. If you cannot find fresh porcini mushrooms, this will also work well with dried porcini.
Though the recipe calls for polenta, this stewed rabbit will work equally well with pappardelle, or strip-style pastas, for example broad tagliatelle. It will also be quite nice with hare, one of the most popular catches hunters aim for in the fall, or you could use cubed venison or boar.
By mid-October chestnuts make their first timid appearance in the markets, and if I'm feeling extravagant (they're not cheap) I buy my first pound to take home, slice open, and roast over a burner or the coals. A little new wine -- novello,
the Italian equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau -- and who could ask for more?
One wouldn't necessarily think to grill a leafy vegetable, but Radicchio has the texture and body necessary to stand up to the dry heat of a charcoal or stovetop grill, and also a pleasing bitterness that will do a nice job of contrasting the oil used to keep it from sticking and burning. It also benefits from the slightly smoky flavor it acquires during cooking.
By early-mid November it gets cold enough to frost at night, and the chill adds a delightful sharpness to black leaf kale, Central Tuscany's signature winter vegetable. It's good many ways, but reaches perfection in this hearty bread soup, which matures beautifully into Ribollita (reboiled, or reheated) after a night in the fridge. Make more than you think you'll need, because people will demand extra helpings.
Squash is another nice thing about Italy in the fall. They perhaps reach their highest expression around Mantova, where they're transformed into sinfully rich ravioli.
Fagiuoli all'uccelletto, beans with a light tomato sauce, are one of the most classic Tuscan dishes, and are a common accompaniment to braised meats or stews in the cooler months. Served with Italian link sausages they also make a perfect winter main course. In short, they're comfort food.
Gnocchi alla Romana are baked semolina dumplings, and when the wind begins to howl outside, little can be more comforting or inviting. They're also easy to make -- quite easy enough to enlist the help of a child.