Hunting for summer truffles in Italy goes back many centuries. Historically, female pigs were used to sniff them out, as the truffles contain a pheromone similar in scent to the male pig’s pheromone, which attracts females. The only downside was that pigs are as enthusiastic about truffles as humans and determined to eat their finds. Consequently, hunters started using dogs instead and there is even a dog breed now, the lagotto romagnolo, that is synonymous with truffle hunting. Originally, they were pure hunting dogs but as that waned, they made a no-brainer career move into hunting truffles instead. The dogs are open to training using a process involving truffle scented toys and treats to associate finding truffles with a reward. They are also taught to paw the ground when they find a truffle to help the hunter.
In Italy most summer truffles, or scorzone, are found in the in the Marche region south of San Marino and around the three small towns of Roccafluvione, Macerata, and San Gineso.
Over the years the summer truffle has gradually spread farther afield into France and even Spain. They are even cultivated in some regions on wholesale truffle farms, which is made easier because the summer truffle doesn’t need specific environmental conditions to grow compared to other truffle species. However, generally summer truffles do tend to flourish best in limestone areas, among pine, chestnut, beech, and oak especially.
The truffles have a black exterior with an unusual skin texture almost like alligator skin, with rough warts. Inside the flesh is light brown, with a firm, spongy texture. The flesh also has faint marbling, with thin branching veins, which stay the same colour even on exposure to air and sliced over dishes.
They tend to grow to larger sizes than other species up to 10 cm, although they are more commonly found in golf ball size truffles weighing between 50 to 150g. Their easier availability leads to a more competitive price even though they have a good strong flavour. The aroma is complex with traces of earthiness, porcini mushrooms, chocolate, garlic, hazelnuts, and vanilla. The truffles improve in flavour and aroma as the season progresses from May. By the end of the season in August, when they are fully matured, the aroma is quite pungent. Many Italians believe the summer truffle is the summer version of the black winter truffle. Truffles have a use by date of 12 days from purchase, although they can be successfully frozen if packaged correctly.
The best uses for truffle are subjective with every chef having their own favourites for foodservice. However, among them all common themes are apparent. Egg dishes, particularly omelettes, sauce dishes such as classic pasta carbonara or even a simple cauliflower cheese, while black truffle risotto is also ranked high. They fare well with mushrooms, naturally, and potato dishes and sweetcorn. The overall theme is one of simplicity, giving the truffle centre stage.
Initially like kidney beans, borlotti beans are sweeter and have a more delicate taste. They are firm, and almost meaty with a rich nuttiness. The fresh bean harvest runs through the summer months and the pods left to half-dry for use in autumn and then fully dried for the winter months. The pod of the fresh bean is speckled bright red, while the bean is lighter with red speckles. They are a mainstay of Portuguese, Greek and Italian cuisine, where they are grown in northern Italy in the Veneto region. Borlotti beans originated in South America and were introduced to Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers. They are renowned as highly nutritious, providing a good source of iron, copper, and protein
Borlotti Bean Recipes: Italian Stewed Borlotti Beans with pancetta, Vegetarian Borlotti Bean Chilli, Tuscan Bean Soup
Not faring well in hot weather beetroot make an appearance during spring and then for a second harvest later during autumn. There are numerous species available with as many colours again. They are a staple with fresh produce and in salads but work just as well roasted.
Avalanche beetroot have been grown for the first time this year at Melilot Farm in St Mellion, Cornwall. Named after the firm white flesh it is intensely sweet but has none of the earthiness typical of other beetroot, which alienates many. It’s being announced as the beet for people who don’t like beet. The green outer leaves can be used in the same way as Swiss chard.
Baby Red Beets have a deep burgundy coloured root. They have a high sugar content giving them a pronounced sweetness as well as the trademark rich earthiness. Their red stems and green leaves can be cooked or used in salads. In cooking they go particularly well with cheeses such as pecorino and gorgonzola.
The golden beet lives up to its name with firm flesh, which is yellow or gold and with pale concentric rings. They are slightly less sweet than red beets with a milder earthy flavour. The leafy green stems are edible and can be served raw in salads or cooked in the same way and spinach and Swiss chard.
Like other beetroot the golden beet pairs well with cheese such as goat’s cheese or feta.
The Candy Beetroot flesh is dense and naturally striped with concentric rings of white and pink or red. In salads, Candy beets have a crunchy texture with plenty of earthy flavour. After cooking, they have a more tender texture with a sweet, earthy flavour.
Beetroot Recipes: Mixed Roasted Beetroot, Beetroot and Smoked Salmon, Parsnip & Beetroot Gratin, Beetroot & Lemon Houmous.
Known for its natural sweetness and lack of seeds the Grezzina courgette is grown in Lazio, the fertile, wholesale growing region around Rome. Having a lower water content, they are ideal to grate for fritters and cakes.
As the name suggests the trombetta or trumpet courgette is long and thin with a bulbous end, which contains all the seeds. The main part of the courgette is only 2-3cm in diameter and the flesh is firmer and less watery than other species.
Courgette Recipes: Grated courgette in fritters, Ratatouille, Lemon Courgette Linguine, Aubergine and Courgette Parmigiana.
It is difficult to pin down a good description of escarole, but it combines elements of kale, spinach and lettuce in taste and looks. The curly pale green leaves have a nutty, bitter taste a bit like endive. It can be served in salads, stir fried and added to soups and stews. The famous Italian Christmas soup, Straciatella, wouldn’t be served without it.
The San Marzano tomato is both a type of tomato and a region in southern Italy near Naples, where it grows. The San Marzano tomato is a plum tomato, which is longer and thinner than typical plum tomatoes you may see. Their skin is dark red and easy to peel. The flesh is thick, dense, and bright red, and because San Marzano tomatoes have a low-moisture content they create sweet, rich, and complex flavours when cooked.
Cuore del Vesuvio tomato (Heart of Vesuvius or Black Bull’s Heart)
With dark red coloured skin, the Black Bull’s Heart is as distinctive on the outside as when you cut it open. The flesh inside is dense and dark, with an almost meaty texture, which is sweet and only slightly acid. It is grown both on the volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Campania and in Liguria.
Butterhead Lettuce has a sweet mild flavour and ruffled outer leaves. Remove these outer leaves to find a firm, crunchy heart.
Oakleaf Lettuce grows from a small base fanning out with larger leaves to a curly top. The leaves have a mild, sweet, and nutty flavour, albeit with some mild bitterness.