Travel The World From Your Garden - 3 Little Known Italian Vegetables to Grow in the UK
In March my Boyfriend and I were supposed to be travelling for his birthday, due to COVID we didnt so much as leave the house on his big day, but one of the places I had considered taking him was Italy. We're both massive foodies and Italy is renowned for its exquisite foods, and not just Pasta and Pizza!
Coming from a multicultural family I have always appreciated the significance of the role food plays in culture, so outside of physical travel food is one of my favourite ways of exploring different countries and cultures. Being a plant fanatic and a food fanatic, naturally I am always searching out fruits and vegetables from outside the UK that will grow in our climate.
Given the current travel restrictions experienced across the globe I thought now would be a good time to share some of my favourite goodies to grow from around the world in this new Growing World Foods Series, starting with Italy!
3 Italian Vegetables to Grow in the UK
We all Know about Tomatoes, Courgettes and Beans, but that's not all there is to Italian vegetables! Italian Cuisine focuses very much on high quality, fresh ingredients, with many rural communities collecting wild herbs and greens by the armful to cook and add to salads.
I'm still not 100% au fait with Chicory, it has a minerally bitterness that my puny western pallet hasn't quite adapted to, but the Italians love it.
If you grow Chicory over the heat of summer it will become unbearably bitter. You should always sow it after midsummer. Frost will sweeten the leaves a little.
A variety of Chicory highly regarded by Chefs is Puntarelle. I grew it last year and although I left it too late to harvest for the leaves, I was able to harvest the tap root to make a caffeine free coffee substitute which was surprisingly good.
Where to buy Chicory Seeds: The wonderful Franchi Seeds specialise in Italian heirloom varieties; this is where I got my Puntarelle seed.
The Guardian Chef has some excellent tips on cooking the Chicory variety Puntarelle. For the more conventionally known Witloof and Raddiccio types of Chicory, try these recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
I can only really describe Agretti as if Grass and Samphire had a baby. The thin frondy leaves of this bushy plant have a salinity and crunch to them that is very similar to samphire, but without the need for a salt marsh to grow it! As if this plant couldn't get any cooler, it's also related to tumbleweed...
I have found Agretti pretty easy to grow BUT the seed (which is actually a mini dried up plant ball) is horrifically difficult to germinate. The seeds do not keep year on year so sow the entire packet in spring. Once the plant reaches 20cm tall keep chopping the tender growing tips back to encourage the plant to bush out and produce more tips. The more mature growth can become tough and less palatable.
Where to Buy Agretti Seeds
I have purchased Agretti from both Franchi Seeds and the Real Seed Company (where my latest batch was from), both companies had exceptional germination rates.
Use any way you would Samphire or twirl the fronds into spaghetti with olive oil and garlic, alternatively you can try this delicious recipe for Agretti with Pancetta from Italian Food Forever!
Call it a Broccoli, call it a Cauliflower, call it what you will. Romanesco is perfect on a level that it's almost impossible to conceive nature could create, with every floret a geometric marvel.
I must confess to never personally having tried to grow either heading Broccoli or Cauliflower, though I've grown and revelled in the sumptuous flavour of home grown sprouting broccoli; they always seemed too easily and cheaply available in the shops to be worth the effort. BUT that has changed and this year I'm growing both heading broccoli and Romanesco. I believe the trick is in planting them at the right time... I'll report back on how that goes for me.
Where to Buy Romanesco Seed:
Most seed suppliers with a reasonable selection of vegetable seeds should carry Romanesco.
I'm honestly not sure you can beat roasting Romanesco florettes with a drizzle of olive oil till the tips char. I serve Romanesco like this as a side to just about any Italian dish. Delicious.
So, have you tried any of these vegetables before? Will you be trying them this year? Let me know in the comments below!