Longing for a taste of the old country? Colby Eierman, director of gardens at Copia, America's Center for Food, Wine and the Arts, in Napa, Calif., explains how to bring a little bit of Italy into your backyard.
At the green onion stage, when the plants have produced foliage but aren't flowering just yet, harvest every second or third plant by removing the plant, bulb and all, from the soil. The leaves can be used as scallions in flavoring or garnishing Italian dishes. The remaining onions are given enough room in the ground to develop into full size before they're ready for harvest where the bulbs can be used in cooking.
The fava bean is an excellent cool-season Italian crop whose beautiful red flower is not only attractive but also edible. "It has a subtle flavor, but it adds a beautiful color to a dish," he says. The growing season for favas usually lasts about 100 to 120 days, depending on the variety. Plant them in the fall and spring, and enjoy the harvest all season long. Then save the seed for the next growing season.
Romanesco cauliflower is another Italian veggie loaded with flavor. 'Veronica' is a Romanesco type that produces a large flower head with a bright yellow-green color and interesting pattern. Eierman's crop of Veronica cauliflower shows signs of pest damage on the leaves. After some detective work, he rules out cabbage loopers and slugs and determines that finches were responsible.
Kale is an under-appreciated, cool-season vegetable that's loaded with vitamins and minerals. Lacinato kale has black foliage that make this an ornamental edible Italian heirloom.
No Italian garden would be complete without rosemary. 'Tuscan Blue' is one selection that has great flavor. Colby recommends using cut stems of this rosemary as skewers for grilling. To do this, simply cut one stem, about 8 to 10 inches in length, and remove the leaves, stripping them off with your thumb and forefinger. Use the bare stems for skewing and grilling meat or raw vegetables. The stripped leaves can be set aside for future use in flavoring Italian dishes.
Broccoli is a cousin of the Romanesco cauliflower. This hearty Italian heirloom provides a consistent harvest throughout the growing season.