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Eight of the tastiest Italian foods for autumn

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Eight of the tastiest Italian foods for autumn
Photo: Aurelien Guichard/Flickr
12:52 CEST+02:00
Autumn is a delicious season in Italy, with the harvest bringing a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to restaurant menus and local markets.

Many towns and villages hold food festivals or 'sagras' to celebrate their local delicacy, so it's an ideal time to go on a foodie trip across the country, or simply sample the seasonal dishes on offer in almost every restaurant.

From main course to dessert, here are the must-try foods you have to taste this autumn in Italy.

Chestnuts

Stop at one of the many stalls selling roasted chestnuts for a classic autumnal snack on the go. It's been a staple of Italian cuisine for centuries, with both Homer and Virgil mentioning chestnut trees close to Rome in their writings, and they are believed to have been cultivated since around 2000 BC.

As well as eating them as they are, you can try chestnuts incorporated into bread, cake, soup, pasta sauce, or risotto. For an extra special experience, visit the world's biggest and oldest chestnut tree, Il Castagno dei Cento Cavalli (Chestnut of 100 Horses) on the eastern side of Sicily's Mount Etna, or go to Mugello in northern Tuscany where the region's particularly sweet chestnuts have been given EU protected status.

Photo: Justin Henry/Flickr

Game

As well as being harvest time, autumn is also hunting season, with plenty of game for meat-lovers to choose from. Venison, wild boar, goose, hare, pheasant, deer, and duck all find their way onto autumn menus, particularly in slow-cooked stews which are perfect comfort food for gloomy evenings. They also work well in chunky ragu sauces, served with ribbon pasta (such as pappardelle or tagliatelle) or tucked in ravioli.

Boar is probably the most traditional of the meats, and Tuscany is the best region to go to for it - the importance of the beast is clear from Il Porcellino, the bronze statue of a boar in Florence which is said to bring good luck. Festivals dedicated to the meat are found across the region, including in Gabbro, Suvereto, Chianni, and Capalbio, where you'll also get a chance to learn more about the hunting tradition.

READ ALSO: This map shows you where to find the best pizza in Italy

Wild boar ragu. Photo: Pug Girl/Flickr

Cappellacci di zucca

Pumpkins and squash are the quintessential autumn vegetables, and one of the best ways to enjoy them is in this dish from Ferrara, Emilia Romagna. 'Cappellacci' means 'little hats' because of the pasta parcels' supposed resemblance to peasants' straw hats. Each of them is stuffed with a rich pumpkin filling and usually served with either butter and herbs or ragu.

But Ferrara isn't the only place to enjoy the dish, and towns across the country have festivals to celebrating squash and pumpkin. One of the most famous is to be found in Venzone, a northeastern hamlet whose spectacular annual pumpkin festival includes shows, fire-eaters, and competitions for the biggest and best locally grown pumpkins, making it a perfect excuse to visit the village recently voted Italy's most beautiful.

Photo: The Local

Truffles

Italy's truffles are one of the most prized ingredients you can find, with single truffles selling for tens of thousands of euros at auctions. But they can also be enjoyed by foodies on a budget and make delicious additions to pasta sauces, pizza, and risotto. 

Head to Alba for the International White Truffle Fair to see the country's best known truffle festival, or seek out a smaller sagra in Umbria, Le Marche, or Emilia Romagna - there are dozens to choose from. One great place to visit is Norcia, which is celebrated for the truffles which thrive in its hills and warm climate and has put them forward for Unesco status. And several tourism companies offer the chance to go on a guided truffle-hunt so you can seek out the truffly treasures yourself.

READ ALSO: Italian airport waives liquids limit for hand luggage - but only for pesto

Vino Novello

Literally 'young wine', vino novello is wine made from grapes harvested just weeks beforehand, using a sped-up fermentation process. Because of that, it has a lower alcohol content than the average Italian wine, tasting fresh and fruity, and pairs well with the other autumnal flavours on this list but roasted chestnuts in particular. Its production first started in France but, never to be outdone when it comes to wine, Italian producers began making it soon after and it gained official recognition in the 1980s. 

Vino novello goes on sale at the end of October each year, and millions of bottles are produced through the autumn. The main place you'll find it is around Veneto in the north, but it's also popular in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Puglia, and Sardinia.

Photo: Faisal Akram/Flickr

Figs and prickly pears

Fresh, sticky figs start to fall from the branches in September and can be eaten fresh or mixed into jams so you can enjoy them through the rest of the year. Alternatively, they go well with prosciutto or other meats for an aperitivo snack.

The Italian name for prickly pears is 'fichi d'India' or Indian figs, because the story goes that when Christopher Columbus first arrived and saw the strange fruits, he thought he'd arrived in India. Prickly pears are found in Sicily, where they're often eaten for breakfast and help keep you hydrated in the warm climate. They're a healthy choice, packed with nutrients, but if you're in the mood for indulgence, they can also be used in liquors or cakes.

Photo: 16:9clue/Flickr

READ ALSO: No more kebabs - Venice cracks down on takeaway food

Grape focaccia

Grapes aren't just for wine, and those which would otherwise have been discarded during the harvest often find their way into this traditional flatbread - in rural Italian communities in the past, it was very important that no food go to waste. The dish is most typical of Tuscany, around the region's vineyards, and the sweetness of the grapes is balanced out by the addition of salt, rosemary, and olive oil.

Photo: watashiwani/Flickr

Chocolate

Yes, chocolate can be enjoyed year round, but during autumn there are several spectacular festivals dedicated to the sweet treat. In October, the most famous of the lot, EuroChocolate, kicks off in Perugia, home of the traditional Italian Baci chocolates. In November you can head north to CioccolaTÒ in Turin - where the first chocolate-hazelnut spread, a precursor to Nutella named Giandutto, was invented - or Cioccoshow in Bologna. And wherever you are in Italy, it's worth heading to your favourite cafe for a cup (which in reality is often a bowl) of hot chocolate - the Italian take on the drink is thicker, creamier and altogether more decadent than the homemade sort.

READ ALSO: Researchers have found 6,000-year-old wine in a Sicilian cave

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