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Four Fabulous Italian Vegetables To Add Variety to Your Table

By Barbara Ganley, June 8, 2011 - 5:19pm

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So much of what I grow could star in any manner of Mediterranean meals--tomatoes, of course, and basil and oregano, naturally, and zucchini, eggplant, artichokes and cauliflower (for Sicilian dishes). But what excites me even more these days than these absolute anchors of my garden are four Italian vegetables people like to order in restaurants but often don't think to grow. I’d like to encourage everyone to find a spot in the garden for these fabulous four!

1. When people come over to take a tour of my gardens and orchards, they're plenty excited by the variety of peppers and tomatoes, the size of the artichokes, the scent of the herbs, the beauty of the eggplant.

But they ooh and ah over the favas that are now in full flower (I expect to pick them in another three weeks or so--usually they’re ready sooner, but we've had a rough, rainy spring). People love to order pasta with peas and favas, or even to buy some at the local market to make into Eating Well's Braised Summer Vegetables or Penne Primavera, but grow them? What a notion!

Favas fresh from the garden (before shelling)

2. How about rapini? I think more people plant what's also known as broccoli raab, but not as many as I would think. What an incredibly easy vegetable to grow in cool weather--plant the seeds and wait a few weeks--that's all there is to it-- and how nutritious and versatile in the kitchen!

3. Then there's the surprising romano beans, the fat, flat green variety I see on plates all over Italy but not so much here. They are tender and flavorful and, again, easy to grow-- the variety I plant (from seeds sent to me by my daughter's Sicilian boyfriend's mother) are pole beans, meaning they grow upward instead of out and thus take up little space in the garden as long as you give them something to grow up. Think Jack and the Beanstalk.

4. Radicchio. Not only is this bitter green good for you and divine when grilled and sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and chopped garlic, it is incredibly beautiful in the garden. It, too, takes little fussing, just a place away from the rabbits who, at least where I live, seem to prefer radicchio over most other foods. I erect a simple low fence of sticks and berry netting around the heads when the bunnies eat too much, but I grow so much of the stuff, that I don’t mind losing a head or two to them and so don't often need to resort to such measures. If you grow radicchio, you can pick the tender young leaves for salads, or wait until it heads up, and then harvest the entire plant.

I can't imagine doing without these four vegetables in my kitchen, and thus my garden. How about you? Do you have a favorite four that might surprise someone visiting your garden?

Do you have a favorite four that might surprise someone visiting your garden? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Barbara Ganley, Gardening

Barbara asks: Do you have a favorite four that might surprise someone visiting your garden?

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