The Autumn Table
The fall is a time of countless poetic definitions and romantic expressions, often associated with a pregnant pause in the happiness of the summer. Certainly, the hot weather falls by the wayside, but there are still plenty of days in which to enjoy the colorful riot of the leaves before we stumble into the November mists.
Nobody knows this better than those who walk the vineyards: all of a sudden, all the greenery begins to crinkle, from the yellow edges to the reddened veins, and even the flickers of orange, red and mauve of October foliage.
Our country’s food, especially in modern times, has an incredible boost at the beginning of the autumn. Having forsaken the summer pursuit of freshness, earthy, musky ingredients now appear, like mushrooms, truffles, chestnuts and beans.
Cold dishes and fish barely licked by the flames make way for dewy soups, polenta, stews, braised and grilled meats, the homely pleasure of just-baked bread and cakes, flavorful cured meats and filled fresh pasta, as well as a certain devilry in the condiments that bring mirth, togetherness and, deep down, infinite joy.
No worries surround the long cooking methods, the generous sauces and smells that emanate from the kitchen around the home. Long, noisy lunches are served with comforting wine, like the more contrite gatherings of wine connoisseurs who, in the shadow of an old bottle, discuss the vintage, a perfectly cooked pigeon and the balance of the sauce with the ravioli.
Autumn is still abundant when it comes to ingredients: spiky artichokes whose patient working results in sides, sauces, appetizers, creams and soups; versatile pumpkins, capable of producing anything from entrees to dessert; beetroot and tubers; leeks, almost the courteous cousin of the onion; cabbages, in their myriad shapes and sizes; and mushrooms.
Plus, there are the fall fruits too, like apples and pears, pomegranates and chestnuts.
There’s no shortage of food for thought – and for creativity in the kitchen. The really difficult thing in a country as varied as ours, where the seasons have changing paces and ways at different latitudes, is to pinpoint a dish that symbolizes the whole of Italy.
At least a nice pile of porcini mushrooms, however they’re prepared, is an image that makes the shorter days seem beautiful. After all, even crumpled leaves have a beauty all of their own.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.