Pumpkin risotto and the great wardrobe switch: How life in Italy changes when autumn arrives

Now autumn has arrived in Italy, writer Richard Hough in Verona describes the distinct seasonal changes to what we eat, wear and do - and why some of Italy's international residents are lagging a few weeks behind.

Pumpkin risotto and the great wardrobe switch: How life in Italy changes when autumn arrives
Teenagers playing football in a park in northern Italy on a sunny day in late October. File photo: AFP
It took me a few years to realize it, but one of the things I love most about living in Verona is the existence of four distinct seasons. Growing up in the central belt of Scotland, it wasn't always easy to distinguish between one season and the next. That’s certainly not a problem in Italy.
Summer is long and hot. Winter is cold and short. In between, of course, spring and autumn have clear characteristics of their own. 
When autumn arrives in Verona, it does so suddenly and with little warning.
Those of us from northern climes tend to lag a couple of weeks behind the locals. Our kids still wear short trousers and t-shirts long after the Italians have been impacchettato [wrapped up] for the winter with bubble jackets, hats, scarfs and gloves.
Autumn in Italy is famously beautiful, but for residents, life changes along with the landscape. Photo: AFP
Just a few weeks ago, we were enjoying a late summer picnic at Parco Sigurtà, I was playing football late into the evening in little more than shorts and a vest, and my little boy was still wearing his worn-out summer sandals.
This week, however, found us hastily rummaging about in the darker reaches of our closets, trying to find an elusive matching glove and woolly hat for the chilly morning cycle to school.
Italians are much better organised than us and schedule in advance their seamless sartorial transition from summer to autumn.
This process, which puzzled me when I first encountered it, even has a name: Il cambio dell'armadio. It involves carefully pressing, folding and storing dormant summer wear, and taking out of storage autumnal necessities such long sleeve jumpers and overcoats.
For those tricky days which are neither summer nor yet winter, Italians have a range of gilè at their disposal, and they are, of course, discerning wearers of scarves, an essential style statement, but also a necessary protection against the notorious colpo d’aria.
Insects which made a nuisance of themselves during the summer – ants, wasps and mosquitos – have now vanished, only to be replaced by a docile, but no less formidable, adversary – the cimice. These smelly bugs arrive at this time of year with persistent regularity and seem intent on setting up home in every nook and cranny of our apartment.
You'll find yourself buying more seasonal produce if you live in Italy – perhaps without even thinking about it. Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash
While Verona seldom has the relentless rain and blustery winds that I typically associate with this time of year, there is undoubtedly a chill in the air. But by lunchtime, when the sun has risen high above the city’s spires and the morning whisps of mist have fizzled away, it’s pleasant enough to enjoy a brisk pranzo all’aperto (outdoor lunch).
Of course, the changing seasons also mean culinary adaptations too, since the Italian diet is still very much rooted in fresh seasonal produce. Grapes and olives are harvested in late summer and early autumn, and oranges, pumpkin and chestnuts take centre stage at local market stalls and greengrocers.
Bars, restaurants and trattorie modify their menus too, to include rich, hearty dishes like pasta e fagioli (bean soup), risotto zucca e formaggio (cheese and pumpkin risotto) or tagliatelle ai funghi (pasta with mushrooms). To wash it all down, I instinctively veer towards a deep autumnal red, rather than the refreshing light beer of summer.
Fresh tagliatelle ai funghi (pasta with mushrooms) Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash
Of course, this autumn is quite unlike any other I’ve spent in Italy.
In Bardolino, the bustling resort on Lake Garda, which lends its name to a fruity red wine produced locally, the annual Festa dell'Uva e del Vino (Grape and wine festival) has been cancelled. In San Zeno di Montagna, a pretty village on the slopes of Monte Baldo, the annual Festa delle Castagne (Chestnut festival) is going ahead in a very different format.
Team sports have been cancelled, shopping centres are being shut down and bars, cafès and restaurants are teetering on the brink of closure.
As the crisis once again intensifies, there is a growing sense that everyday life is shutting down around us. Like the passing seasons, though, we know the crisis can’t last forever.
Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His first book, Notes from Verona, a short collection of diary entries from inside locked down Italy, is available here. He is currently researching his next book about wartime Verona.

Member comments

  1. I love your paragraph about the four seasons, one of the many reasons why I hope to move to Piemonte one day. I live in south Florida, and after my dear friends and family over there, it’s the change of seasons I miss. I’ve visited from September into mid-October, found your recounting delightfully accurate.

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Why Italy’s All Saints and All Souls days have nothing to do with Halloween

Spooky traditions haven’t really caught on in Italy where strong Catholic beliefs mean the country has its own way of honoring the dead, says Silvia Marchetti.

Why Italy’s All Saints and All Souls days have nothing to do with Halloween

Many Italians gathered last night to celebrate Halloween dressed as ghosts, witches, skeletons and zombies. Hotels, restaurants and pubs organised Halloween-themed events with spooky decor and music.

Each year I’m shocked by how Halloween penetrates Italian culture even though it’s a foreign import from Anglo-Saxon countries.

The real Italian festivities this week are All Saints’ Day (Ognissanti) celebrated on November 1st to remember all saints and martyrs during Christian history, and Il Giorno dei Morti o dei Defunti on November 2nd (the Day of the Dead, known elsewhere as All Souls’ Day) to commemorate the beloved deceased ones, mainly family members but also close friends.

While November 1st is a public holiday (and many Italians exploit it as an excuse for a ponte, a long weekend), November 2nd is a working day.

The entire week preceding All Saints’ Day sees cars queuing up to go to the cemetery, people rush to bring flowers and a few prayers to the tombs of deceased loved ones, and streets are often jammed.

For many Catholic Italians, it’s actually the only time of the year they remember to honor their dead, as if ‘imposed’ by their religion. A bit like going to mass on Sundays; if they fail to do so, they might feel guilty or even fear punishment from above. 

After spending an hour or so at the graveyards – places Italians usually tend to avoid – on All Saints Day, after the spiritual duties are accomplished, they might gather for lunch, bringing cakes and pastries.

People in Italy bring flowers to their loved ones’ graves on All Saints’ Day. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

In some southern regions so-called ossa di morto (bones of the dead) pumpkin-filled biscuits and raisin pan dei morti (bread of the dead) are bought, while in the north chestnut pies are baked. 

Ognissanti is a very private event that usually involves little or restricted get-togethers, brothers and close relatives share the graveyard trip but then each goes back home, with little feasting on fine food. 

Catholics don’t have any macabre ritual involving leaving an empty place at the table for a spirit to join us. It is a moment of sadness but also of joy because our dead loved ones have ascended to heaven and are all there waiting for us. It’s the celebration of love, rebirth over doom, and the promise of a future reunion with them in heaven. 

That is why November 1st and November 2nd in Italy really have nothing to do with Halloween, which I call the ‘culture of the grave’ and the celebration of ‘scary death as an end to itself’. 

Even though they may partake in Halloween as a mere consumeristic party, Italians are mainly Catholic and believers do not believe in the darkness of the night, in the damnation of the grave, in being haunted by wicked spirits who long to take vengeance on us, in witches flying on broomsticks and terrifying zombies coming out of tombs. 

Pumpkin is something we occasionally eat as a pasta filling; it’s certainly not a decorative spooky element.

Halloween, which in my view is imbued with paganism and the Protestant belief in an evil superior being and naughty spirits ready to strike down on sinners instead of forgiving them, is celebrated in Italy but lacks a religious or spiritual nature. It’s like the Chinese celebrating Christmas for the sake of buying gifts and acting western. 

Halloween deeply affected my childhood. I’m Roman Catholic and I attended Anglo-American schools abroad where Catholics were a minority and each year I drove my mom crazy by forcing her to sew me a ghost or witch dress. She’d take a bed blanket and cut open three holes for the eyes and nose, annoyed that I should be influenced by a celebration that was not part of my tradition. 

In elementary and middle school my foreign teachers would make us decorate classrooms with spooky drawings, bake skeleton-themed biscuits for trick-or-treating, and tell us ghost stories in the dark to create an eerie vibe. 

Once we were also taken to visit a cemetery and when I told my dad about it he got annoyed and did all sorts of superstitious gestures to ward off evil. 

Halloween has always freaked me out but I did not want to miss out on the ‘fun’ for fear of being looked down upon by other kids. And so I too started believing in vampires, zombies, and ghosts, particularly at night when I was alone in my bed and had to turn on the light. Still today, and I am much, much older, I have a recurring nightmare of an ugly evil witch who torments me and chases me up the staircase.

I soon learned that if for Anglo-Saxons a trip to the graveyard is a jolly event, like a stroll in the park, and ‘graveyard tourism’ is on the rise, for Catholic Italians it is a place accessible only during funerals, moments of prayer, or during the week of All Saints and All Souls days. 

Last time I visited Ireland the guide took us to a monumental graveyard with tombs as high as cars, and lavishly decorated. A few of my Italian male friends refused to enter and spent the whole day scratching their genitals to ward off jinx.

Halloween night is said to be when the barrier between the worlds of ghosts and humans comes down. But Italians don’t usually like to ‘party’ and mingle with the dead or other spirits. We instead honor the deceased with our prayers but the boundary remains firm in place: in fact, this is why our graveyards are placed outside of city centres.