By Julia della Croce
It's no surprise that vegetables are the bedrock of the Italian diet. For one thing, the climate is temperate and the growing seasons are blessedly long. For another, there is a relationship between the Italians and their vegetables that can only be described as sacred.
This is in no small part because until relatively modern times, meat eating was a privilege of the wealthy. The country was slow to industrialize and kept much of the labor force under an essentially feudal system: Sharecroppers worked the fields on estates whose wealthy owners paid them not in cash but in kind—half the crop.