Italian sweet basil is the main ingredient in pesto, the traditional Genovese sauce made with garlic and pine nuts.
Sweet, earthy, meaty beets are one of Italy’s largest crops. They add great color to risotto, a Northern Italian rice dish usually served a primo (as a first course).
Cooking local favorites like mustard, turnip and collard greens — and Italian rapini (or broccoli rabe) — with Italian olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes helps remove their bitterness.
Though they’re named for Brussels, Belgium, where they were first widely cultivated, these sprouts date back to ancient Rome. They’re great roasted with olive oil and pancetta (Italian bacon).
New Orleans was once the second-largest port for the Sicilian citrus fruit trade in the United States. Lemons add brightness to seafood, chicken and veal Milanese, and are the crucial ingredient in piccata, a pan sauce made with white wine and capers.
Fennel seeds add flavor to Italian sausage, but all parts of this licorice-flavored member of the parsley family are edible. The raw bulb is sweet and crisp but mellows and softens with cooking.
Fresh figs have grown wild in Sicily since the earliest times. They’re perfect paired with prosciutto, an Italian ham.
Garlic is far more popular in Italian American cooking than in Italian cooking — you can’t make Mosca’s Chicken a la Grande, Cacciatore or Shrimp Mosca without it.
Eggplant Parmesan is one of the classic dishes of Southern Italy. Use salt to remove some of the bitterness from eggplant before making a parm or fried eggplant. Slice and layer in a colander, sprinkling each layer with coarse salt. The salt will extract some of the liquid, making the eggplants less bitter and keeping them from absorbing too much oil when they cook.
More than 300 varieties of tomatoes are grown in Italy. You can use any type of ripe tomato for Caprese, a salad of fresh tomato slices, mozzarella, basil and olive oil.
PUMPKIN & SQUASH
The English word zucchini actually comes from zucca, the Italian word for pumpkins, gourds and squash. Try zucca in risotto, or grate it and add to gnocchi.