Lidia Bastianich, perhaps the most famous Italian chef in America, writes in the April issue of Fine Gardening magazine about how important gardening is to good cooking.
"I learned how to garden—and subsequently cook—from my grandmother," she writes. "Nonna Rosa, who lived in Italy, grew much of the food that was brought into our kitchen. It was during this time in my childhood that I came to a realization: To get the best ingredients, sometimes you had to plant them."
Isn't that the truth? The produce in the supermarket may look good, all shiny and perfectly shaped, but it never tastes as good as the vegetables and herbs we pick from our own gardens.
But even more important, many of the best Italian vegetables are never found in supermarkets. Lidia lists nine lesser-known veggies that she considers essential to a true Italian garden. We have them all at Seeds from Italy.
So take a tip from the esteemed chef, author, and culinary superstar Lidia, and grow these in your garden this year.
Tomato San Marzano Redorta, which she describes as a "larger, meatier, and more robust version" of the traditional San Marzano plum tomato.
Arugula Ortolani, with a more consistent size and milder flavor than other arugula varieties.
Zuchetta Tromba d'Albenga, which Lidia grows on her grapevine near the house. She cooks the young squash like zucchini, roasts the older ones like winter squash, and she cooks the tendrils and leaves.
Bush bean Marconi, a crisp and tasty Roma bean.
Endive Zuccherina di Trieste, known as leaf chicory, which can be broadcast seeded and ready to cut in 30 days. The leaves are mild and soft. It will regrow after cutting for up to 5 harvests in one season!
Pepper Corno di Toro, a Piedmont specialty, has thick walls and sweet flavor.
Chard Verde a Costa Bianca grows well spring, summer, and fall. The leaves taste like spinach and the thick white stems like celery.
Eggplant, Japanese types such as Violetta Lunga, are thin-skinned and not bitter.
Celery Verde Pascal, which Lidia says does not need to be blanched. She uses it in all the usual ways, but also suggest a celery sorbet. Is it any wonder she is renowned for her culinary skills?