An old Italian proverb advises,” Quando i mandorli fioriscono, le donne impazziscono“- when the almond tree blooms, women go crazy. I can safely say that I missed this arboricultural, aphrodisiacal or psychotic event a few weeks ago. The almonds already have fruit! Mr Tranquillo is looking for a later flowering variety to extend the season.
My productive organic orto reminds me of the wisdom contained in old Italian proverbs, based on the experience of centuries of vegetable growing by the Italian contadini, the rural peasants, who depended on a productive home garden for crops to be eaten fresh, stored, pickled or dried. Given that this class of farmer was often at the mercy of the landowner, working under the mezzadria, thetraditional share cropping system, a productive ‘home’ patch would have been essential to their survival.
With each turn around the garden, I can hear the vecchi, the old folk, reciting advice in the form of rhymes, the oral history of food and planting. I have selected a few gems to go with this season’s verdant bounty.
Chi pianta le fave senza concime, le raccoglie senza baccello – Those who plant broadbeans without fertiliser, picks them without pods.
Chi ha un buon orto, ha un buon porco. Those who have a good vegetable garden, have a good pig. We find this to be the case with chooks also: they love wild rocket and silverbeet.
Let me out…stamp, stamp, stamp.
Un piatto di lattuga l’insonnia mette in fuga. A plate of lettuce chases away insomnia.
L’insalata vuole il sale da un sapiente, l’aceto da un avaro, l’olio da un prodigo, vuol essere mescolata da un matto e mangiata da un affamato. A salad wants salt from a wise man, vinegar from a miser and oil from a squanderer, mixed by a madman and eaten by the hungry.
Lattuga romanella ripulisce la budella. Cos lettuce cleans the gut.
Simple dishes star this season,the cucina povera of theItalian contadini:
freshly made egg pasta with sage leaves browned in butter
frittata stuffed with herbs and wild greens, with ricotta saltata
orecchiette with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies
green salads wisely dressed
pies and tarts with silverbeet, dill, spring onions and mint, along with fetta
silver beet dolmades
salsa verde to dress fish or dill and walnut pesto to dress hard-boiled eggs
risotto with cavolo nero or radicchio
It’s all very green with the odd touch of bitter crimson. The planting of the summer fruiting vegetables has begun.
Julie’s Spring garden in the North Island of New Zealand is always inspiring, especially given her brilliant photography. Find her at frogpondfarm
One of my New Year’s resolutions included a desire to eat more frugally and to shop less.
My aim is to produce meals that cost close to $1.00 per person on a regular basis. Can this be done with a large pizza for two? The following costing is based on my free garden produce, which at this time of the year, is dominated by the prolific zucchini crop, followed by cucumbers, tomatoes and basil.
A Pizza dell’ Orto is my favourite vegetable garden pizza in summer, especially on a hot evening, in giardino, outside under the trees.
The following costing is pretty accurate, without pedantically weighing the olives, anchovies and so on. I buy Extra Virgin Australian olive oil, Cobram 3 litres @ $24.00 a tin), Italian anchovy fillets in oil@ $11.00 for 750 gr and Laucke bakers flour @$11.00 for 5 kilo, pitted black olives @ $16.oo a kilo,and Mozzarella cheese, sliced finely @ $11.00 a kilo.
half of the dough is used to make a large 35 cm/15 inch pizza for two . The rest is stashed for tomorrow’s foccaccia.
total cost of pizza dough= 70 cents
The Tomato Sauce
Can of tomatoes, Italian brand, 60 cents.
Home grown garlic and oregano.
Half used on pizza. The rest of the sauce is stashed for another use.
total cost= 30c
10 thin slices of Mozzarella, around $1.00
anchovies from bulk jar and pitted black olives, a handful, around 50 cents.
Garden produce includes zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil.
total cost= $1.50
Total Cost for this Pizza= $2.5o
grilling the zucchini and sauce, 10 minutes.
weighing and mixing the dough, 10 minutes
rising time ( summer),1.5 hours.
cooking time, 15 minutes.
The little children and their parents visit often over the lazy summer months. Five large pizzas are enough for a family meal for 8 adults and 5 young children. I usually work on 3- 4 slices per adult and 2-3 slices per child. One of the family favourites is a pissaladiere, the budget South of France model and a pepperoni version for the meat lovers, which is a slightly more costly version.
Feeding my Pizza loving family costs around $15.00 so long as I have the ingredients on hand. The only items purchased from the duopoly chain of Australian supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, were the flour and the yeast.
At some ungodly hour this morning, still half asleep, I heard my mother’s voice saying, ‘Don’t make a rod for your own back.’ At the time, I was considering the long list of jobs in the vegetable garden for the day ahead. Rod for my back? Yes indeed.
In Spring, the garden turns into the dictator of this little kingdom. The broad beans must come out today, the potatoes were dug out yesterday, a rather disappointing crop due to frosts in June. All the silver beet plants are now towering over me as they all simultaneously go to seed. They must be dug out and handed over to the chickens, reminding me that next week, the greens will be few in our kitchen. There are lettuces and cucumbers to transplant, more crops to sow, and a piece of metal rio (metal building mesh) would be very handy to make a shady wall for the rhubarb. The fruit trees need netting, the tomato plants staking! Just as one languishes in the land of plenty, along comes that dictator to deliver the rod. Or am I stuck in some bygone land of Catholic penance?
Many meals come my way gratis, thanks to l’orto, the veggie garden. This is the upside of our peasant labour, and when I eat this way, I feel that it’s worth all the effort. Last night’s Frittata is an example. I gathered all the ingredients from the garden, added some eggs from our chickens and made a 10 minute meal that was alive with taste, and rather healthy too.
Frittata di Primavera -Fave, Patata e Rugola
Spring Frittata with Broad Beans, Potato and Rocket.
This recipe takes only a few minutes to throw together if you have already cooked and peeled the broad beans, which is discussed previously here.
4 -5 small new potatoes, yellow fleshed
1 cup of broad beans
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
a large handful of rugola/rocket
Extra Virgin olive oil ( Australian oil is an excellent choice if you happen to live here)
vinegar di Jerez ( Sherry vinegar)
Boil the new potatoes in their skins, until just done. Roughly chop.
Heat a small non stick pan and add a good glug of olive oil.
Add potatoes, turn around in the oil, add a pinch of salt and the paprika, and cook till golden.
Add the chopped garlic, turn about for a minute, then add the double shelled broad beans.
Beat the eggs with a little more salt and pepper, then pour over the vegetables.
Lift up the edges of the frittata, allowing the unset egg to run back under, turning the pan as you go.
When the frittata looks almost done, except for the wet top, pop it under a hot grill for a minute or so to set.
When done, invert onto a plate, using the plate as a lid over the pan.
Top with rugola/rocket, which has been dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar.
I’m going to start with the most important thing a garden requires- compost. Without a consistent approach to compost making, your garden will not thrive. So let’s head down into the heart of darkness.Look inside this bin. Some mornings it sends up little smoke signals as I open the lid. We have five bins in permanent production. I have just emptied two mature lots onto the Spring beds. The other three are in various stages of breaking down.
When we built our vegetable patches five years ago, we had no natural topsoil at all. Our beds have been built up over the years with good compost. After every growing season, they need topping up and refreshing. I learnt how to make better compost from Wendy Mathers of the Food Farm, through workshops run by our local Council. Before I attended Wendy’s workshop, my compost approach was not based on correct layering and so the results were patchy. I have heard a lot of nonsense over the years about mythological practices and debates about what constitutes good composting technique. Correct layering, using everyday found matter, is the answer. I follow this recipe and am enjoying great results, with a bin maturing every three months or so, full of lovely fresh black soil alive with pink earthworms. Here’s the recipe:
Compost Recipe – developed by Ross & Wendy Mather, Food Farm, St Andrews, Victoria
The base ingredient is one bucket of green matter, that is, vegetable scraps, or fresh grass/weeds then add to this one item from nitrogen column and any two items from carbon column.
1 bucket manure 1 bucket straw
2 cups pelletised manure 1 bucket paper
1 cup blood and bone 1 bucket dry leaves
1 bucket Lucerne 1 bucket sugarcane mulch
Too much carbon slows decomposition, and too much nitrogen smells. If you have vinegar flies, add more carbon and check your ratios.
In late Autumn, I have an abundant supply of crunchy oak leaves providing the carbon matter. In summer, I save newspapers and shred them on site. Newspaper ink is vegetable based. You tear along the grain so that it shreds easily. I use cow and chook manure as I keep these animals, but the list provides alternatives for suburban gardeners. Weeds can be used so long as they are drowned thoroughly first to destroy any seed.
Wandering around the Spring vegetable patch after some welcome rain, my photo lens and I discover the close up beauty of new life. Seeds sprout and develop quickly, young grapes form on vines, last month’s quince flowers are now miniature fruits, the pears and apples are in flower and fruit, and the nectarines already colourful.
Each photo suggests a task. The little lettuce seeds need thinning and transplanting. I often wrap up a few clumps then make transportable containers using wet newspaper. Seedlings were once sold this way from nurseries.
The strawberries are happy but I need to ‘acquire’ the materials for a walk in cloche. I am always on the look out for stuff in tip shops but thick poly piping is well sought after. We have stolen three veggie patch beds for raspberries and strawberries. Now we are short of room for summer vegetable crops. The children love to pick berries and eat them on site, as do the birds. The boysenberries have gone crazy and need containing. More freezer space is required!
The zucchini plants are well on the way and I should see the start of the plague next week. Traditionally in Melbourne, zucchini begin to fruit one week after Melbourne Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day ( the first Tuesday of November) is used as a marker for all sorts of gardening activities. Some say that tomatoes must be planted from Cup day onwards. I plant mine much earlier, in the ridiculous hope that I might have tomatoes by Christmas.
In the surprise bed, one dedicated to out of date seed, the Cucurbit family seeds all germinated ( all were five years out of date) as well as the borlotti beans. These little squash need thinning out and sharing.
Winter crops are now going to seed and I save the best specimen of each vegetable for seed collecting. The only problem is that these giants take up valuable space. The importance of home seed collecting is that you end up with a variety, after some years, that is most adapted to your particular microclimate, as well as preserving the strongest of the species. Darwin at work! These seeds are swapped and given away. Sometimes, like all things, new genes are introduced. The red lettuce below was found years ago in a mesclun lettuce seed mix. I have saved this one to provide summer colour contrast to a lettuce bowl.
The grapes will be prolific this year: netting takes place in a month or so. This year I plan to preserve some vine leaves for dolmade making, and the method can be found on Debi’s site here. I must be selective about this as the leaves shade the grapes from the vicious summer sun.
The young nectarines are already bird attractors. Those hungry birds, mostly Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, white Cockatoos, Corellas, and King Parrots, will attack young, hard fruit for fun; just testing, they say. The nets will come out soon, a big task to cover around 30 fruit trees in production. Even olive trees need netting.
The artichokes are late this year, probably because I transplanted them last Autumn. I love their grey -green foliage and will use these small ones shaved in a pasta dish this week
The broad beans continue to grace our garden and plates. Other currently harvested crops include radicchio, rugola, and lettuce.
This post forms part of Garden Share Collective a monthly round up of food growing bloggers. If you lived next door, we could share seed and seasons of plenty.