Plant a giardino delizioso this year, a vegetable garden inspired by the flavors of Italy. Seeds for truly Italian vegetable varieties are easy to obtain or grow. These seed buying, growing and cooking tips may help you plan and enjoy your own giardino.
Antipasti - may we start you wih a unique choice from Italy, rarely seen in the American garden?
This is a slightly bitter salad vegetable for cool weather gardening. Like its close cousin, lettuce, it grows quickly in cool, moist, fertile soil. There are two shapes of radicchio. The round Verona type, like ' Rosa di Chioggia', has a firm, almost cabbagey texture and mild bite. The tender white ribs and purple leaves are beautiful in the green salad. Try a salad mix of romaine, round radicchio, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The longer Treviso radicchios look like small heads of romaine lettuce and have a more robust flavor. Grilling, braising or roasting brings out a sweetness.
Also called Dinosaur kale, or black kale (caldo nero,) this is a kale with long oval leaves of dark blue green. Dinosaur kale is more tender than standard kale. Kale is cold hardy like other brassicas (cabbage family plants.) Sow kale seed early in spring. Stop harvesting during hot weather but allow the plants to grow. Kale will thrive again when the days turn cool, and make mild, tender leaves for fall and winter soups. Read more delicious suggestions from Anna Bond at this blog, "Lacinato, the Lazy Man's Kale."
Is it a broccoli, a cauliflower, or living graphic art? Where you usually get a rounded head of florets, romanesco forms a complex geometry of spiraling cones of bud, in light green. It's hard to describe the shape. The texture is like that of cauliflower. Urban Gardener "bitbit" grew romanesco and raved about it! She also graciously provided her feedback and this picture for the article. This is what she says about preparation, "I did my standard veggie thing (seriously, there are so many veggies I cook this way): olive oil, salt, pepper, and a baking sheet in a hot oven (450 in this case) until a bit browned but still firm." Like many other cabbage family crops, this broccoli makes a good fall crop in many American gardens. Watch out for the voracious green caterpillars of white butterflies.
Primo e secondo- Now to fill up your garden
Italian cuisine does not all require tomato, but many of our favorite Italian recipes do include them. Paste tomatos hold less water and are ideal for sauces. 'San Marzano' is the quintessential Italian paste tomato. The original cultivar is indeterminate, making tall vigorous vines. There is a "bush" hybrid as well. The bush San Marzano will make many fruits that ripen in a short interval, whereas the indeterminate plant will continue its production over a longer season. Now for your caprese, also plant a beefy slicing tomato. 'Costoluto Fiorentino' is a big beefy tomato borne on big, indeterminate vines for a long harvest. 'Oxheart' is seen in many American seed catalogs, but it is a traditional Italian variety. Caprese is made by slicing those juicy tomatos, and layering the slices with mozzarella, chopped basil, and olive oil.
Zucchini already IS the gold standard for an Italian summer squash. If you like stuffed squash blossoms, 'Zucchino da Fiore' makes plenty of flowers, and less fruit. 'Romanesco' gets excellent reviews, as does the similarly striped and slightly ribbed 'Striata d'Italia.' However, zucchini has been widely hybridized for American gardens as well, and you may prefer those that are more compact growing or bear fruit without pollination. For novelty, grow a few trombocino type zucchini vines. These rampant climbing squash make ver r ry long fruit with a firm texture. In fact, trombocinos can be allowed to mature and be stored as a winter squash. When growing any zucchini, remember that they do not like root disturbance, and need warm soil for germination and growth. Beware of squash vine borers and squash bugs! When harvesting, check the plants daily to gather small fruit. Zucchini needs little to no added water when cooking, and can be roasted or grilled.
Choices abound in the pepper category. The long "bull's horn" shape is popular, 'Corno di Toro' in Italian. And those peppers can be yellow (giallo) or red (rosso.) Pepperoncini can be sweet (dulce) or spicy hot (piccante), long and skinny, or round. Read descriptions carefully, because peppers "heat" is not strictly related to the shape and size of the fruit. Most seed suppliers seem to offer a pepper seeds which they identify as "Italian" for your convenience. All peppers like warm growing conditions, tend to be pest-free, and can bear well until frost.
Almost any seed catalog will carry a "Roma" type bean. Those are the ones with wider, flattened pods. Pole Romas wil need support to about seven feet and bear mounds of beans if harvested faithfully. Bush romas, like other bush beans, form knee high plants and are quicker to make beans, but may quit sooner than pole beans. For beauty on the vine, plant 'Trionfo Violetto' pole beans. They form gorgeous purple, round "green" beans. All green beans, even purple and yellow ones, like warm soil.
Dolce- There's always room for dessert, and there's always room in the garden for a few herbs
Basil is popular around the world, but the choice in this case is a basil with large, tender leaves. 'Italiano Classico' is such a basil, and grown in Liguria to produce trademarked Genovese basil. Unlike many other herbs, basil grows in a rich soil. Keep the leaves picked, and flower buds pinched, to delay flowering. Plant when the soil warms up, and again a month later, to extend the availability of fresh leaves from this fast-growing plant.
Flat-leafed parsley is preferred. The leaves are large and the flavor is deep. Flat leaf parsley is commonly called Italian parsley. Parsley seed can be started indoors or outside and is very cold tolerant. Soaking helps germination. Give parsley a rich soil with enough nitrogen to grow loads of deep green leaves. Parsley leaves can be cut all summer, and the plant usually overwinters. Next year, cut off any flower stems to help keep the original plant going.
This is just a taste...
These sources show many more seed vegetable choices. Piacere il suo giardino italiano !*
*Enjoy your Italian garden! (translation by freetranslation.com)
About Sally G. Miller
I grew up playing in the Maryland woods, and would still do it often if life allowed! Graduate of University of Maryland, my degree is in Agriculture. Gardens and natural areas give me endless opportunity for learning and wonder. Naturally (pun intended) my garden style leans towards the casual, and my cultural methods towards organic. I like to try new plants, and have "some of everything" in my indoor and outdoor gardens. Thanks go to my parents for passing along their love of gardening and nature, and my husband and kids for being patient when I get lost in the garden.