Italy has more than 25 million acres of farmland which produce a variety of vegetables and fruits that are major components of the country's cuisine. Gardening and fresh produce is an important part of the Italian lifestyle, particularly home gardens. From juicy tomatoes and grapes to meaty olives and figs, Italy has a handful of well-known fruits and vegetables that flourish in its rich soil.
Lemons are one of the most common fruit trees in Italian gardens, whether for cooking, medicinal use or ornamental purposes. The fruit grows slowly on the trees from a light green to a bright yellow, large, cylindrical fruit with a thick rind. They grow in sunny areas and must be brought indoors for regions with cold winters. Lemon trees grow in the southern areas of the country, and the flavor will vary from sweet to sour to tangy depending on the surrounding soil and region. Lemons are used not only for decoration, but eaten fresh, used in seasoning (for the acidic flavor), grilling, made into juice and added to beverages.
The fig tree is a common addition to any Italian garden because it is one of the easiest fruit trees to grow. Figs are a fruit that resembles a light green plum on the tree, with a pink tender flesh on the inside. When dried out, figs become silver dollar-sized and soft, ranging in color from tan to purple. They have a sweet, tart flavor and are often incorporated with cheese and wine dishes, salads, eaten raw or used as an ingredient in sauces. When figs flourish in the wild, they grow on rocky hillsides to absorb full sunshine. When growing at home, fig tress will thrive in any area with full sun and require little maintenance or pruning.
Olives are synonymous with Italy (especially southern Italy), particularly for olive oil production that dates back to 7th century B.C. Italy is the second largest olive producer in the entire world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Olive trees can grow in fields for miles, with colors ranging from black to green to pink, with meaty flesh and sometimes a hard pit in the middle. Besides olive oil production, olives are used often in cooking--mashed into tapenades or with pate, eaten raw, added to beverages, chopped raw into hot and cold salads, sauces or grilled on skewers with meat or other vegetables.
Besides olives, Italy is among the world's leaders in tomato production and is the largest producer in Europe, according to the FAO. Tomatoes are grown mostly in southern Campagna and northern Puglia, as well as Sicily, and need partial sun and protection from frost. Tomatoes are incorporated into every type of dish, but are most popular for simmering in fresh tomato sauces, chopped raw for salads, grilled or stuffed.
Italy has over two million acres of grape vineyards running along coastlines and mountains, the third largest in the world, according to the Wine Institute. Grapes are grown in almost every single region of the country, and dozens of varieties are produced. Besides wine, grapes are used to eat as fresh fruit and with cheese platters and incorporated into desserts, juice and sauces.
Other Fruits and Vegetables
Italy also grows several other fruits and vegetables on a smaller scale, including eggplant, herbs, apples, artichokes, pears, potatoes and quince.
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