Italians take their food very seriously and part of this dedication to the culinary arts includes the frequent use of seasonal ingredients. This means that during the winter you’ll find a very different selection of food on offer than you would in the summer months.
Cooking using seasonal ingredients allows Italian chefs to make the most of the natural bounty that is available and ensures that all the ingredients are fresh and at the very peak of their flavor. Of course, during the winter, you won’t find so many raw tomatoes, leafy salads and other summer classics on the menu; even so, you’re still absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to Italy’s winter cuisine.
The Most Popular Italian Soups.
The following are the best Italian soups to have during winter:
Ribollita soup is a traditional Tuscan dish that was once considered to be a food that only poor people ate but has become hugely popular in recent years. The soup is made from seasonal fall and winter vegetables including kale, carrots and potatoes. However, what makes this soup quite unique is that stale bread is also added to help thicken the soup.
Adding stale bread is a great way to use up those uneaten crusts that weren’t eaten in time. You can also add any leftover vegetables that you have in the kitchen so it’s a very economical recipe – which is partly why it was considered to be ‘poverty cooking’, or ‘cucina povera’ in Italian.
One of Italy’s most famous exports, Minestrone soup, is made from onions, carrots, celery, beans and tomatoes. As the ingredients cook and their flavors merge into a heartwarming broth, pasta, or occasionally rice in Northern provinces, is added to finish the soup.
Generally served with thick slices of fresh bread, no winter in Italy would be complete without trying some local Minestrone soup. Although Minestrone soup is a starter, it is often eaten as a main course during a light lunch.
Canederli In Brodo.
Canederli in Brodo is a thick broth from North Eastern Italy that is served with delicious bread dumplings. This is the perfect winter warmer and is another good way to use up any old bread that you have lying around in the bread basket.
The dumplings are made using stale bread, eggs, cheese and, in some cases, cold cuts of ham. These are rolled into small balls and added to soups or served with melted butter. You can also add any other vegetables that you like to complete this delightful Italian soup.
The Most Popular Italian Appetizers.
The following are some of the best Italian appetizers and side dishes to have during winter:
Alpine Salumi And Formaggi.
This finger-licking winter antipasto platter is made with a selection of Alpine cheeses, cuts of cold meats, including salami and ham, as well as bread and a smattering of grapes. The platter is often served with a topping of melted Fontina DOP cheese, much like a fondue.
Radicchio is a leaf chicory that is a common ingredient in Italian winter cuisine. The beautiful red and white marbled leaves look fantastic and have a spicy and slightly bitter taste. Most Radicchio is grown in the Veneto region but it is served right across the country during the winter months. Radicchio is often made into a salad with walnuts, lettuce and apples although it can also be sauteed and added to broths or served with meat.
Black Winter Truffles.
Black winter truffles are an Umbrian delicacy that is only available for a few months of the year. These unique truffles are cultivated near the roots of oak and hazelnut trees and are famous for their deep, earthy flavors. Hugely popular with chefs, black winter truffles are an extremely versatile ingredient.
Traditionally, in Umbria, black winter truffles were minced and served with olive oil, garlic and salt. They can also be eaten with an antipasto, sliced and added to beef, pork, wild boar and game meats, or grated and used to top pasta and potato dishes.
The Most Popular Italian Main Course Dishes.
The following are the best Italian main course dishes (il secondo) to have during winter months:
Polenta is a Northern Italian staple that is made by grinding cornmeal into a thick paste. This can be boiled and served as a hot porridge-like dish with cheese or it can be served with a meat stew and vegetables. Alternatively, you can grill the polenta and serve it with a creamy mushroom Ragu. This highly versatile dish is great value for money, extremely filling and is a regular on the menus of Italy’s ski resorts.
This Lombardy specialty is an elaborate dish that is made from a variety of types of pork and seasonal savoy cabbage. This winter dish was traditionally made in mid-January because St Anthony Abbot, considered to be the protector of domestic animals and the founder of Christian monasticism, proclaimed that nobody could slaughter pigs after January the 17th each year!
As a result, cooks would make use of all the cuts of pork that couldn’t be preserved for the rest of the winter. Customarily in Lombardy, the best cuts of pork were salted and hung to cure while the other cuts were added to Cassoeula. Often, Cassoeula is served with polenta and a glass of local red wine.
Pasta In Brodo.
During the winter in Italy, it’s popular to serve pasta in a thick broth, particularly in the central and Northern regions where the weather can get extremely cold in the winter. The different regions of Italy have their own ways of making pasta in Brodo.
For example, in Piedmont, the pasta is stuffed with veal and served in a tasty Parmigiano broth whereas in Emilia-Romagna it’s served with tortellini stuffed with pork and cheese. For more simple versions of the recipe, pasta is served in a broth made of finely chopped boiled meats.
Risotto is a rice based winter dish that is massively popular in Northern Italy. Risotto is made using short-grained Italian rice, broth and a splash of dry white wine. When making a risotto the broth is carefully added to the rice and stirred to create a creamy textured mixture. As the risotto thickens you can add any number of ingredients including mushrooms, seafood or meatballs. Risotto is the perfect winter dish to help you stay cozy and warm while the snow falls outside, so if you haven’t tried it yet, you certainly should!
Tuscan Roast Pork.
This delightful winter dish hails from Tuscany and simply consists of slow roasted pork or wild boar that is infused with a wide range of local herbs and garlic. Usually, the Tuscan roast pork is served with potatoes and a side dish of seasonal vegetables. Another popular Tuscan recipe serves pork or wild boar with cannellini beans and potatoes. Tuscan roast pork is super filling and is a great recipe to cook at home because you can carve up the pork joint to share with your friends or family.
The Most Popular Italian Winter Beverages.
Aside from wine, the following are some of the best Italian beverages to have during winter:
This intensely flavored mulled wine is served hot and is the ideal way to warm up while you’re exploring a Christmas market or to sip at home as you sit around the fire telling stories. Vin Brule is made by infusing a rich red wine with spices such as cloves, anise, citrus zest and cinnamon. Vin Brule is customarily served in November and December each year in Italy and although it’s most popular in the Northern regions you can find it in any Christmas market or make your own at home!
Cioccolata Calda is an Italian hot chocolate that contains more cocoa than milk, unlike its American counterpart. This makes the heartwarming beverage super rich and is best served with a good dollop of whipped cream on the top. If you’d like to spice the Cioccolata Calda up a little bit you can also add a pinch of cinnamon to it to give it a delicious undertone.
Zabaione is both a drink and a dessert! The Zabaione, known as a ‘zabaglione’ in Southern parts of the country, is a crema that is made by beating egg yolk, sugar and a drop of Marsala together. When making a drink from the zabaione, you need to heat the cream carefully in a specially designed pot before serving it with dry biscuits, usually either Amaretti, Savoiardi or Lingua di Gatto biscuits. You can also add a topping of whipped cream for an extra luxurious garnish.
Bombardino means ‘little bomb’ in Italian, and this firecracker of a drink is a huge favorite among skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts. Traditionally made with warm zabaione, brandy and cream, the Bombardino is guaranteed to give you a real burst of heat, even in the coldest weather!
The Bombardino was originally invented in Livigno in Lombardy but it quickly spread through the Northern ski resorts and later, to the rest of Italy’s bars. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, the Bombardino is also made in 3 different modifications on the basic principle. A ‘Calimero’ is made with warm zabaione and a shot of espresso, a ‘Scozzese’ is made with zabaione and whisky while a ‘Pirata’ is made with zabaione and rum.
Hot Apple Cider.
This simple hot winter drink is made using apple cider that is slowly heated up before being served. The warm apple cider is infused with various herbs and spices to give it the classic winter flavor. There are numerous local recipes for this drink although most include ginger, cinnamon and cloves. If you would prefer a non-alcoholic version of this beverage then you can infuse cinnamon sticks, pieces of fresh ginger, cloves and brown sugar into fresh apple juice before heating it up.
The Most Popular Italian Winter Desserts.
The following are world famous Italian desserts to have during winter:
Although you can eat Tiramisu all year round, it tastes best during the cold winter months. Tiramisu is a classic Italian coffee flavored cake-style dessert that is traditionally made with Savoiardi ladyfingers, raw eggs, sugar, coffee, cocoa powder, mascarpone cheese and a flavored liqueur.
However, the recipe has also been adapted to replace the raw eggs because many people prefer not to eat raw eggs. There are numerous variations on the basic recipe but they all make a delicious dessert. The rich tastes and light, fluffy texture are the perfect way to complete a delightful Italian dinner in the winter.
A panettone bombe is an ice cream and raisin cake with a gorgeous chocolate outer layer. The cake is often decorated with sparklers when it is served in a restaurant so it really is a genuine show-stopper!
The inside of the cake is made with layers of panettone cake that is hollowed out and filled with ice cream. Then, once the layers of the cake are in place and the ice cream has been added, it’s covered with a layer of melted dark chocolate. Truly a joy for the senses, the panettone bombe is one of Italy’s top winter desserts.
Struffoli originated in Naples and is made from deep-fried sweet dough. The dough is shaped into little balls and used in many types of Italian sweets, including favorites like chiacchiere. Struffoli are soft and light on the inside and crunchy on the outside, and often dipped in honey.
There are several main ingredients that are added to struffoli, depending on your tastes. You can get struffoli with sprinkles, bits of orange rind or cinnamon, to name but a few! Struffoli are usually served warm in the winter and are a massively popular Christmas treat!
Italy’s Number One Winter Fruit.
It is the Arance. If you’re looking for an ultra healthy snack after you’ve finished your meal then oranges are undoubtedly Italy’s leading winter fruit. Known as ‘arance’, these oranges are mainly grown in Southern provinces like Sicily and are famous for their blood-red interiors.
Arance are at their very best in January and February but you can also get plenty of other citrus fruits at this time of year, including mandarins and clementine’s. You can either eat the citrus fruits as they are or else squeeze them into a fresh orange juice, known as ‘spremuta d’arancia’ in Italian.
Italian Winter Cuisine Is Heart Warming And Delicious.
Although you might be more used to Italy’s summer cuisine, the winter food is just as spectacular. From delicious Northern classics, such as risotto, to Tuscan roast pork, from finger-licking desserts to ‘cucina povera’ soups, Italy’s winter dishes have so much to offer!