A sharp crisp morning hazy with mist matures into rich golden afternoon of enduring summer heat, now more cloying as the humidity of Autumn sets in. A light evening breeze brings the scent of roasting chestnuts and produce of market stalls evoke autumn colours before the leaves change – orange pumpkins, pale yellow marrows, deep brown chestnuts. Autumn in Northern Italy is a season of great variety – at the sea in Chioggia sunbathers bask on the warm sand while a few metres back the street is populated by jacket-clad walkers buffeted by the sharp sea breeze. So what are the many facets of Italian life you can enjoy during this abundant season?
The heat is certainly not over in early October, and the hot midday sun brings out a scattering of dedicated beach-goes. Sottomarina, by Chioggia, is one of the most popular beaches near Venice. In the summer the sand is obscured by several of rows of regimented coloured umbrellas fanning out in front of fantastical tacky bar constructions and fairground rides. In October, however, the families that have been resident all summer return to the city, the umbrellas are closed and the sunloungers removed. An occasional bar remains open for a gentle trade and the beach is suddenly clean, pure and natural again.
This is the perfect time to spend a day on the sand, listening to nothing but the rolling waves and occasional chatter drifting from a nearby bar. For lunch you don’t even need to change out of your costume, just wander up the beach to a bar, sit at a table with your feet resting in the sand and be served fresh seafood pasta and a carafe of prosecco.
Harvest season means every town and village comes alive for an annual sagra, or food festival. Even the smallest hamlet is bedecked with decorations and crammed with stalls to celebrate the local produce. Radicchio (chicory) is a popular vegetable in this region. The purple crisp bitter leaves are sneaked into many dishes both hot and cold, or eaten fresh with a drizzle of aceto balsamico. Generally a sagra will have a large tent filled with tables where you can eat a full meal specialising in the particular product. At the Sagra di Radicchio in Bosco Mesola we filled ourselves with delicious typically autumnal fare, including zucca in saòr (a cold dish of pumpkin with cooked onions, raisins and vinegar), crostini con baccalà e radicchio (toasted bread topped with a creamy fish mousse and a fresh radicchio leaf), and lasagne al radicchio e salsicce (sausage).
Up-coming food festivals in the Veneto include:
Mele al Mel (fruit and their produce including cider, vinegar and jam), 7-9 Oct, Belluno (BL)
Octoberfest, 6-9 Oct, Abano Terme Bagni (PD) – there are also several luxurious spas to be enjoyed here!
Festa delle Giuggiole (jujube berries), 9 Oct, Arquà Petrarca (PD) – incidentally also a stunning little hamlet which you can read about here.
Festa del Marrone (chestnuts), 22 Oct, San Zeno di Montagna (VR)
Markets and Cooking
October also brings typically autumnal weather, but a day of drizzling rain can be profited from using a local market and some warming recipes. There is an almost comical range of pumpkins available here, from the smooth glowing orange pin-up model favoured for Jack-o-laterns to knobbly, warty green varieties that look like they are made from wax. Pumpkin roasted in the oven sprinkled with a little sugar, nutmeg, crushed garlic and salt, and drizzled with olive oil is the perfect contorno (side dish). The best pumpkins for cooking are either ones with a dark green skin or the ‘Marina di Chioggia’, which is also dark green but which has a particular knobbly appearance.
I make frequent trips to Ferrara at this time of year to gorge on their cappellacci di zucca (pasta filled with rich pumpkin) eaten in a restaurant with a tomatoey ragù or a cream, brandy and almond sauce (guide coming soon in where to find the best cappellacci in Ferrara!). I usually take home a tray full to freeze from Panificio Cappelli, which sells a tempting range of Ferrarese products.
Aperitivo at Sunset
At this time of year aperitivo hour coincides perfectly with some spectacularly coloured sunsets. See my previous post on typical Venetian bars where patrons perch outside beside the canal, on a boat terrace or on the nearby church steps to sip their spritz or prosecco in the evening sun.