/When In Rome, Respect the Seasons

When In Rome, Respect the Seasons

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but artichoke season is over. They vanished from menus outside the center over a month ago, but you are bound to find them in restaurants downtown, especially in the Ghetto, where they are frozen for later consumption or imported from France.

If you had your heart set on artichokes, or any other out of season specialty, please give them a pass. But fear not! Rome and Lazio have plenty of wonderful seasonal produce to offer year-round that will take your mind off what you are missing. The fertile bounty of the region never disappoints and by eating with the seasons, you promote the local food culture, which, let’s be honest, can use all the help it can get.

Rome is often perceived as a bastion of tradition impervious to external forces. But in reality, its gastronomic culture is threatened every day but the influx of industrial products, supermarkets, fast food joints (seriously, if I see one more Burger King or Subway I’ll go postal), and a plummeting food sensibility among locals. At the risk of sounding preachy, I would urge locals and food lovers alike to read this post from last year, which addresses issues of eating responsibly in Rome and is still as relevant as ever.

As lover of food and of Roman culture, I feel very passionately about promoting local traditions, the artisans who practice them, and the cultivators who grow our food. Eating local and sustainable food in season is a fantastic way to honor Rome’s food culture, which needs our help and respect. And as if that wasn’t reason enough, it just tastes better!

2017-02-17T15:27:03+00:00 June 24th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Food & Wine, Gastronomic Traditions, Restaurants, Rome & Lazio|17 Comments


  1. Dillon Naylor June 25, 2011 at 12:41 am - Reply

    Hopefully you’ll see us next year, too, back for artichoke season! 🙂

  2. John June 25, 2011 at 1:10 am - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more!

    It might sound crazy saying that Rome’s food culture is in danger. “Threatened by tourists?! What!? But hey! they come here to do just the opposite – they want to eat local food!”
    Unfortunately local, out-of-season food, is just as bad as any imported hamburger chain restaurant. Working and living the restaurant business here, I’ve seen and heard way to many examples of this unfortunate decline.

    Eating out-of-season food, shouldn’t really be made illegal, but you definitely do it at your own risk. Risk of not being satisfied. Risk of not eating the best the region can offer.
    Seasonality should be considered an art form.
    And good food producers should be considered deities.

    It’s summer: Let’s go eggplant! zucchine! fiori di zucca! tomatoes! peaches! cherries! plums!

  3. Elizabeth Minchilli June 25, 2011 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Really? If someone is visiting from the USA, in Rome, in June and goes to a restaurant where they serve artichokes imported from the south of France, you’re going to tell them not to order them? What about eating other fruits and vegetables? Are you going to tell people not to eat cipolle di Tropea, which come from Calabria? Or tomatoes, which at the moment are coming from Sicily? They can only eat vegetables grown in Lazio? I’m not endorsing eating fruits and veg imported from other continents, but I feel fairly safe in eating a gorgeous artichoke from the south of France.

  4. Katie June 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    Yes, really. And I would expect that someone who affiliates herself with the Rome Sustainable Food Project would too! I don’t think everyone has to eat local all the time. I’m on my way to get a mango and coconut gelato right now. But in Rome certain dishes are only served at specific times of the year when their local ingredients are in season. Dishes prepared this way taste better, have a reduced carbon footprint, give a sense of tradition, and support local agriculture. People can eat however they choose, but the attitude that visitors to Rome are entitled to instant gratification doesn’t really jive with my hopes for improving Rome’s food culture.

  5. Sarah May June 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    Out here in the Castelli artichokes are still on menus, and not only in the Castelli, Latina, and Viterbo areas all have this this on their traditonal menus all year long. I am a gardener and produce my own food and what I can’t eat I am jarring or freezing, and a lot of producers do the same. I still see the lasty of artichokes growing in some fields when I go on walks near my house. It is getting too hot from them, so I imagine soon, they’ll be history. Now, can we please address the disgusting Si Magna Bene culture that seems to be taking over all establishments in Lazio and beyond? I effin’ hate it. I am SICK of going to a fabulous restaurant that we have discovered only to find it has been taken over by some huge Si Magna bene establishment. Sometimes, I fear, Laziali people care more about quantity over quality.

  6. Katie June 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Sarah, many lazio people do prefer quantity over quality. The region doesn’t have quite the same sophisticated approach to food that, piedmont, for example, has. In many ways Lazio is going through the same regression American food culture went through in the post war era. Let’s hope it wakes up and more people like you cultivate the land and respect the territorio. There are small entities promoting local food production and consumption but they are outnumbered by the masses.

  7. kataroma June 25, 2011 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    I don’t think eating imported artichokes is such a terrible sin. I love pineapple, bananas and avocadoes and they’re always imported as they don’t grow here. I don’t see anything wrong with this. I guess if you’re a tourist you can be a purist and only eat locally grown food in season but if you live here and you have a craving for guacamole more power to you.

    I actually find my fellow Romans a bit too obsessed by food. My colleagues discuss what they had for breakfast/the best way to cook X dish etc ad infinitum and my eyes glaze over. I love to cook too but I also have other interests. If only they’d expend some of the passion they have for food on improving all the things which are wrong with this country starting at the very top.

  8. Gina June 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Katie – great post! I too feel very passionately about buying and eating local and sustainable food in season when possible. We are fortunate to have access to fresh produce year round from local farmers and I look forward to each season. I’ve found that when I explain this to tourists they are more than supportive and eager to eat local. As John said above, now is the time to be enjoying zucchini, peaches, tomatoes…YUM!

  9. Wendy Holloway June 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    What a funny coincidence to see your post today on sustainability! I’ve been thinking about just that all day, as I tweeted and then wrote a blog entry, about local sagre. Sagre are a celebration of what is local, fresh, in season….in a word: sustainable.
    The Mediterranean diet and the year-round abundance of produce we have in Italy are the gold standard in food and dining. As food professionals (food writers, culinary educators, restaurateurs) it is our obligation to protect the gift Italy has and to share this message with those who might not fully understand the importance of sustainability.
    If artichokes aren’t on the menu tourists won’t ask for them. But if they do, the answer should be “No, we don’t serve produce out of season” and propose a seasonal alternative. Have we reached such a low point in culinary tourism that tourists dictate to professionals what to serve, even if it means violating our culinary tradition?
    Let’s get over the anglo-saxon life approach that says you should have whatever you want, whenever you want! The joy and pleasure of a seasonal artichoke is that it’s fresh and local. It’s also the pleasure of having it after missing it. Do we have to import them because we have to have what we want whenever we want? Get over it!
    The farm to table concept is much more far reaching than the hedonistic idea of foregoing produce when it’s out of season. It’s about supporting local producers and farmers, it’s about fair trade, it’s about conserving fuel and reducing the packaging that goes into bringing the poor French carciofo to Italy out of season. It’s simplistic, unprofessional and naive to gloss over all these serious, global issues all in the name of satisfying your carciof-istic urge in June. And, I repeat, we are obliged as the professionals who are the keepers of the gold standard in the culinary field to divulge this concept.
    When I teach a cooking class yes, it’s about the pleasures of Italian food and the how-to’s of reproducing it. But it is equally about teaching the students (most of them are tourists) about ALL the implications of sustainability.
    And THAT is what Alice Waters is all about, and has been all about, for decades. It’s about learning to forego what is not in season in favor of what is, in the name of:
    *Living longer, reducing obesity and heart disease (fast food consumption vs. sitting down to share freshly prepared meals with friends and family)
    *Reducing fuel costs
    *Reducing packaging needed in transportation
    *Fair trade
    *Supporting local producers
    My New Years resolution blog post of two years ago echos the message you are so wisely trying to get across in today’s post. (http://flavorofitalyblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/sustainability-new-years-resolution.html).
    None of us are perfect (I made banana ice cream today) but if I can choose sustainability that’s the road I strive to take. And, as a culinary professional, it’s the ONLY road I take with my clients.

  10. Ed June 26, 2011 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Totally agree, if people want to eat artichokes this time of the year let them go to France. Also tomatoes, argh, all thes nobs eating them all year round or even in March. Use canned outside season they have no taste and transporting them 500km doesn’t do any good. Best tomatoes won’t survive a transport like that btw. It is aal this ‘I want, I pay, I decide’ Would be ok if you payed the right price which would make out of season/country stuff so expensive most couldn’t afford it. Btw the next artichoke season is not that long away it can start in October, some genotypes do double flowering very well and by staggering the plants you’ll have them (depending season) until May. If only more Italian growers were more quick/keen to pick up new techniques prices of early crops good be lowered significantly. Oh and the early ones tastes as good.

  11. Kelly June 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    While I may stray now and again, I mostly agree with you Katie. One of my favorite things as a kid was when my mom and I would go to the nearby farm stand and get fresh peas to shuck and eat. Yum. I still eagerly await them every year.

  12. ciaochowlinda June 27, 2011 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I was just in Rome last week and ordered the exact artichoke dish pictured in your post (carciofi alla guidea) in a restaurant in the Ghetto. I have eaten them on many occasions, but this time, it was nearly inedible – tough, way too fibrous to even eat. Wish I’d read this post first. But in their favor, when I asked for puntarelle, the waiter said the season was over and they didn’t serve them anymore.

  13. Kitchen Gurl July 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I’m so glad you wrote about local, sustainable foods. This is something most Americans have no idea of — we eat melon in the winter! The beauty of food is experiencing what all the different seasons have to offer.

  14. Katie July 2, 2011 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    APOLOGIES for not replying earlier to comments!!! Im traveling in Basque Country and trying to balance eating, blogging, writing, replying and sleeping is no small feat! 🙂

    @Gina thanks for your comment! i think you bring up a good point regarding education. it is crucial for people in our profession to provide visitors with accurate information related to local customs, including produce and recipes. many will happily comply with local traditions, if they are familiar with them. some places make it very hard/confusing by offering out of season dishes made with imported stuff. they are doing a massive disservice to the local culture, and to the client, by misrepresenting the cucina romana.

    @kataroma no, not a sin at all. just not at all necessary. i actually used to make guacamole all the time then gave up do to the low quality of the fruits. i actually prefer to overdose on all things avocado when i go back to the states:) some of my family lives in florida, where avocados are cultivated. on the italian obsession with talking non-stop about food, im guilty of it too (it’s not unique to italians!) 🙂

    @wendy thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. And I loved rereading your New Year’s post. it gets me so fired up! I completely agree that it is incumbent upon us to impart the traditions of the local food to visitors and clients ALWAYS and not just when it is convenient or fashionable.

    @Ed oh good lord some of the tomatoes we get here are terrible! and dont get me started on the fave i started seeing in Campo de Fiori in january. a fruttivendolo told me “they’re fine, they’re from a local greenhouse.” i said they can be from garbatella for all i care but there is no way that taste good, a hunch that was confirmed with a sample. on the october cultivation note, yes we definitely get artichokes from sardengna, puglia, etc from oct-may, but the local Carciofo Romanesco IGP’s official season in Feb-May. that is the variety that is traditonally used in rome, only they are very expensive (,80-1,20 each) so lots of places ESPECIALLY in the Ghetto, use cheaper varieties.

    @Kelly oh i stray now and again too. if i always had to eat local everywhere i went, im afraid i would starve! for me it is corn, strawberries, and tomatoes that remind me of shopping with my mom. we would go to the jersey fresh roadside stands or “pick your own”. it’s one of the things i miss the most about living in NJ!

    @CiaoChowLinda uffa! nothing worse than those spiny chokes and fibrous leaves, the product of the wrong variety and sloppy preparation. the same thing happened to me the last TWO times i ate at Sora Margherita. i dont know why i kept giving that place second chances anyway…but i digress. yes puntarelle grown almost exclusively in lazio and there is not a big enough market to cultivate them elsewhere, or im sure they would have served them, too!!

    @KitchenGurl yes one of the biggest joys of leaving the states (which, don’t get me wrong, i still love dearly) was getting to know the seasons again. i think American visitors can really benefit from learning the Roman growing season. the dishes they remember as being typically roman will actually taste better when made with local seasonal ingredients. i see you’ve just stated a new blog. in bocca al lupo!!!

  15. Sarah May July 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    ma si magna bene.

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