Italian Edibles

I have begun to purchase seeds for the 2011 growing season, and because I now live in an Italian neighbourhood, I have easy access to Italian edibles. The above photo represents my first, in-store (as opposed to online), impulse seed purchase of the year.

Most of the seeds I bought were varieties of radicchio (Cichorium intybus) aka cicoria, or cultivated chicory. I have grown a few varieties over the years, but was inspired to purchase seed and try out a few more by a recent trip to my local Italian grocer, where I purchased two varieties I had never tried before. The one on top is ‘Rosso di Treviso’ and ‘Catalogna Puntarelle di Galatina’ the bottom is (more info on both to follow).

Radicchio is a bitter green and an acquired taste so it is not as popular in the home garden as it could or should be. Not only are the colourful heads a beautiful addition to the garden, but the plants are perennial, although I have found the second season harvest are sometimes more bitter.

Here’s what I bought the other day:

Radicchio ‘Triestina da Taglio’ – This is described as a cut and come again variety. I have sown other radicchio varieties thickly and grown them in a cut and come again fashion, but it was interesting to find a variety that is especially suited to it. The leaves are green and not particularly exciting, but perhaps it will make up for what it lacks aesthetically in flavour.

Chicory ‘Catalogna Puntarelle di Galatina’ – Large, dense, segmented heads that remind me of conjoined spears of asparagus, with dark, indented, dandelion-like leaves. Very bitter. Over the weekend I prepared it by thinly chopping the whole thing fresh, with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice on top, a dash of Balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt. I also tried roasting it whole in the oven, and ate it plain. It was equally good this way, but in the future I think I will reserve young, newly harvested plants for eating fresh.

Radicchio ‘Rosso di Treviso’ – Apparently, there are two types. The one I bought to eat from my local Italian grocer is ‘Precoce’, but the one I bought as seed is ‘Tardivo.’ The latter is said to be the tastier of the two, but I would prefer to grow the first as it is prettier, and I am sometimes too vain about the edibles I give preference to in the garden. Here’s a great article that says much more than I can about the history of the plant, including links to recipes worth trying.

Radish ‘White Tip’ – I have a hunch that this is just another name for a variety called ‘Sparkler’ that looks like a round ‘French Breakfast.’ This is a great short variety, suitable for container growing.

Cucumber ‘Carosello Barese’ – They are described on the package as a hairy cucumber that is crunchy and fresh on the inside, but I found this site, where the author suggests that it may be a melon, not unlike the Armenian cucumber that is eaten as a cucumber (Cucumis sativa), although botanically a melon (Cucumis melo). This should prove to be an interesting addition to the garden, and I look forward to growing, and eventually tasting it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “Italian Edibles

  1. Lovely selection – I hope they’re all successful for you.

    I haven’t got started on my gardening plans for this year which is a bit slack of me but I do know that those ‘Rosso di Treviso’ are also on my list. They’re just so elegant with those thick white curves.

  2. MMM, I love some bitter greens, especially radicchio, I’ll have to look up these varieties as I’m fresh out of seed. I too love impulse seed buys, I’ve acquired loofah & cactus seeds this way.

    Love that you’re growing veggies inspired by your neighborhood, if I did that according to what a few of my neighbors have been caught growing I’d be arrested along with them – I’ll stick with tomatoes & beans, nothing illegal there.

  3. Those look so delicious!!! I will have to live vicariously through you and all of your readers this season as I am moving cross-country and will not be veggie gardening this year….good luck and I look forward to lots of photos!

  4. Hey Gayla, I live in Italy, and ate those two radicchio species just a couple of times, thanks to friends who bring local food when visiting us. I can’t wait to see the pictures of others when they grow up. I don’t remember if you ever cultivated other italian vegetables, but I’d like to recommend you a tomato “occhio di bue” (eye of the bull), a potato “patata turchese”, a wild pumpkin “zucca marina di chioggia”, and one of the most incredible vegetables I’ve seen; “broccolo romano”, it looks like an UFO!

  5. Sezgi: I have grown other radicchios, cardoon, and the romanesco broccoli you mentioned. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Chiot’s Run: HA!

  6. Thanks for reminding me that it will soon be spring garden planting time. Somehow it always sneaks up on me even though I am so eagerly anticipating it. I always plant radishes, but have never tried radicchio or chicory. So many seeds, so little time.

  7. Hi Gayla – Could you pass on the name of the store where you found these seeds? I’ve recently moved to Toronto and currently have my name on the waiting list for an allotment plot (…my fingers are crossed!) and would love to start picking up some seeds!

  8. I got this particular batch at a big box store (which was a surprise) but there are several small hardware stores around Toronto that carry them.

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