What to Grow in Your Italian Vegetable Garden What to Grow in Your Italian Vegetable Garden

While we may think of Italian cuisine as all pasta and tomatoes, in fact there is a wide range of delicious vegetables used. If you are planning to keep your kitchen supplied with your own fresh Italian vegetables, here are some varieties which will give your recipes that true Italian flavor.

Roma or Plum Tomatoes: If you plan on growing your own tomatoes for Italian cooking, grow the right variety. The oval shaped tomatoes known as Roma or Plum are full flavored and sweet, a deep rich red color, and can be used to make authentic dried tomatoes, bottled tomato sauce or tomato paste. They are also easier to grow, being resistant to many tomato problems. The big round red tomatoes mostly grown in home gardens will not do as well because they contain more water than 'meat.'

Broccoli: The famous Italian 'green' looks as beautiful as it tastes, with its lush green heads and leaves. You can use both in your cooking, but broccoli is better steamed than boiled - that way it will hold its shape and color and not turn to mush. Broccoli is easy to grow, but keep the seedlings well spaced out to give them room for form deep round heads, and keep an eye out for caterpillars. Broccoli is a very hardy plant, so shouldn't give you too much trouble. You can keep cropping your broccoli through the growing season by the 'cut and come again' method.

Beans: You can grow Borlotti or Cannellini, or both, to give authentic taste to your minestrone. Borlotti is a beautiful speckled red bean that you can pluck from the pods, and use in soups, while Cannellini produces lovely large creamy colored beans. It is a versatile bean that can be used for many dishes, including baked beans. You can also dry these beans for use out of season.

Zucchini: Home gardeners who grow zucchini successfully needs lot of relatives and friends to take up the surplus - or they need to love zucchini very much! But it is a beautiful vegetable with many uses, in salads, soups and pasta dishes. Even the flower can be used with salads, or stuffed and baked.

Fennel: This is an acquired taste, so try some before you decide to grow it. Fennel has a faint aniseed flavor which many people enjoy, and it is a Mediterranean vegetable staple, which can be steamed and served as a side dish. The leaves, roots and seeds are used, the leaves and seeds being good to add to salad. Fennel goes very well with fish.

Artichokes: These plants are spectacular as a hedge or border, and are often seen in French and Italian gardens, but they take up to 18 months to mature. Once matured, however, artichokes can produce for up to five years. Harvest the buds from the side and serve steamed with garlic butter as an entrée.

Aubergine (eggplant): Aubergine grows on a vine like tomatoes, and looks beautiful in a vegetable garden with their dark purple globes of fruit. You can make many speciality recipes with Aubergine, which can be fried, boiled, or stuffed and baked. Traditional Italian cooks sprinkle salt on sliced aubergine to draw out the bitterness, making it delicious to use many dishes. Aubergine is the essential ingredient in Sicily's famous eggplant casserole.

Radicchio: Nothing to do with radishes, radicchio is a delicious fresh leafy vegetable that can be added like lettuce to salads, steamed as a side dish, or added to various recipes. The leaves are red and white and the plant looks rather like a cos lettuce. Radicchio is very hardy, especially to low temperatures and grows well in the home garden.

If you only choose to grow a couple of these vegetables in your home garden, you will find that being able to add your own fresh-from-the garden produce will add that authentic Italian flavor and give all your cooking a lift!

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