Fruit such as tomatoes, eggplant, string beans and squash are often mistaken for vegetables because they are used in savory cooking. Grocery stores and cookbooks only add to the confusion by labeling and organizing produce according to culinary usage, rather than botanical classification. A basic rule of thumb: if the edible plant in question has seeds in it, it’s probably a fruit.
Fresh, fresh, fresh is the only way to go. Italians use many fruits and vegetables in their cooking, making Italian food not only flavorful, but one of the healthiest types of cuisines. The types of fruits and veggies used are what characterizes the regional differences in Italian food.
Southern Italian – Because the South is much warmer, with a much longer growing season, southern Italians use fruits that thrive under warmer conditions (like tomatoes!) For this reason, many dishes with red sauces are more popular in Southern Italian cuisine than Northern. Some other popular Southern fruits and vegetables include eggplant and broccoli rabe.
Northern Italian – In the Northern regions of Italy, vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures and less sunlight are more popular. Some of these include:
- Head cabbages
- Black leaf kale
In both Italy and America, there are many fruits and vegetables that are used in fine Italian cooking. For example:
Eggplant – This is a versatile fruit, used in a variety of Italian dishes, and is one of the most prominent staples of Southern Italian cooking. It can have a slightly bitter taste when raw, but when it is cooked, it becomes very tender with a rich, complex flavor.
Greens (spinach, kale, chard, endive, escarole, chicory, etc) – Italian cooking uses greens that are flavorful and loaded with nutrients. The many greens that are a part of the Italian diet are also a great way to incorporate flavor and nutrition into the American diet. Radicchio or endive are popular in Italian cooking, but are also served raw in salads for tasty side dish.
Sweet bell peppers – These delicious peppers are used throughout Italy and are popular in the United States as well. Sweet bell peppers are wonderful for adding color, flavor, and nutrition to any fine Italian dish.
Pasta primavera without fresh veggies? Unheard of. And what’s an Insalata pizza without fresh veggies…well, not Insalata for one thing. Broccoli rabe, spinach, portobello mushrooms, zucchini, arugula, squash, escarole, cucumbers, tomatoes…the list goes on and on. Rest assured that you’re eating healthy when enjoying our fruit and veggie dishes.
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Also, don’t forget that this Sunday is Mother’s Day! Why not return Mom’s love with an authentic Italian meal made from fresh fruits and vegetables? I happen to know a little place that serves fantastic Italian food in Naples, Florida!
Hope to see you soon!