Like many others, I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. I grew up in New York state, and these colder days remind me of the treks my family and I would take to yet another out-of-the-way Italian grocer—tracking down ingredients for our Sicilian holiday traditions. We shopped for live octopus and vials of cuttlefish ink for Festa dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes), fennel with oranges for New Year’s Day and stuffed artichokes for Easter. Despite the abundance of Italians in the northeastern U.S., the climate certainly doesn’t reflect that of the craggy Sicilian coastline, so finding some of these products in the bleak gray of winter wasn’t easy. Celebrating our cultural heritage at the dinner table is common for many Americans, but the timing can seem a little off when it comes to the seasonality of ingredients.
It wasn’t until I moved to Austin eight years ago that I realized how similar our growing season is to the Mediterranean. Suddenly, my family’s food traditions felt more in tune with the environment around me. In spring we have access to long tender leeks, perfect for caramelizing for a simple frittata. We also see the first delicate strawberries of the year, and root veggies that survived the winter freezes and are at their sweetest. With warmer weather comes peach season and peach granita, peaches soaked in wine or grilled alongside a pork roast. I call the middle of summer “caponata season” after a tangy eggplant and tomato dish my grandma is famous for. When fall rolls around, I’m thankful that I took the time to pickle my own peppers so that I can finish pans of sautéed greens with something bright and spicy.
Maybe you’re not Italian, but we should all be proud of the local food system Central Texans have built. As I find myself following the rhythms of my family and heritage, I’m grateful for the bounty of seasonal food in Texas. I am especially thankful for the realization that ripe oranges and crisp fennel are both in season here in January. Try this recipe paired with a simple lentil soup and hot rosemary focaccia just out of the oven.
By Amy Gallo