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

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
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.
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.
 
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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.

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  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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