This Basil wasn’t Fawlty

Last year at this time of the year we were suffering a heat wave, so much so that the orto struggled. My tomatoes were burnt off by blazing sun, the cucumber ran to seed and everything suffered apart from the pumpkins. This year is a much different story, the weather has been kinder, we’ve had oodles of early summer rain and things are flourishing.

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I’ve already picked several courgettes and cucumbers and my tomatoes are putting on some good growth, so there’ll be plenty of passata made this year. Confidence in the harvest can be seen everywhere. Piero at our local restaurant has a sign up advertising his tomatoes for sale; Well he does have over 3,000 plants.

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Once again my pumpkins have got off to a good start with them taking over the orto like something from a 1950’s B movie, they’ve swamped the butternut squash, but I think that’ll do it some good as it doesn’t like it too hot. I’m pleased that I took advice to dig up my Scotch Bonnets and put them in a pot. They’ve over wintered really well and now have lots of small fiery chillies coming. The French beans are doing their thing in a small bed and I’ve a handful of cabbages growing merrily away.

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The thing I’ve been really pleased with is the Italian basil. Over the past few years I’ve tried all sorts of basil and it either takes forever to germinate and grows into spindly little plants or just sits beneath the surface refusing to pop up. I had purple basil a couple of years ago and it was disappointing, as was many other varieties. But this year I bought a packet of Italian basil seeds and hey presto they were poking out of the soil in days and so far I’ve already cropped 4 bags full and am storing it in the freezer.

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I’ll be cropping again today, cutting it back quite harshly, but there’s no need to worry as it’ll send out side shoots and very soon there’ll be more basil for caprese salads and chopping up and adding to passata. Because of the risk of botulism I don’t make infused basil oil and store it in the cupboard, what I do is make it fresh, by heating basil leaves in oil and then letting it go cold and using it that day.

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Freezing is a good way to store basil, chop and wash then pat dry and freeze in a plastic bag, a day or so later crush the contents in the bag and you have flaked basil ready to add frozen to sauces later in the year. Maybe I’ll have a go at turning the next cropping into basil jelly.

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As a extra note having had 2 messages from non UK people thinking I’d spelt ‘Faulty’ incorrect. Fawlty was a UK named hotel owner in a British TV comedy series played by John Cleese.

Colourful Radishes and Pigs in the Post

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I had an allotment back in the UK and as you all know I have my orto here in Italy. Well everything is going really well, I have my potatoes peering over the top of the half barrel, that Seppe risked his family jewels to cut in half for me. My Romaine lettuce are filling out, my broad beans have some good sized pods and my peppers have fruits eagerly awaiting the sun to make them fat and juicy.

So far my parsnips have only two small green shoots above the potting compost, but everything else is on track, even my Dutch cucumber is loving it’s time outside in the Italian soil.

So I decided when we were having a salad to harvest the first of my radishes. I had a mixed packet of seeds and added some French breakfast ones to the packet and sowed them a few weeks ago. I was more than happy with the first picking, the multi-coloured peppery bulbs looked far too nice to eat, but let me tell you, they tasted as good as they looked. There’s nothing better than freshly picked food.

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I mixed my beetroot varieties prior to sowing a couple of short rows and noticed that the yellow cylindrical ones germinated first and these seemed to suppress the traditional red ones, so I thinned out the rows to give the little red ones a fighting chance this morning, and then did another sowing of just the Bolthardy variety, as they are superb for harvesting early for pickling or roasting whole with rosemary.

So with all the orto activity and fresh produce you’d think nothing could be better, but wait today the post lady arrived with a surprise package for me. I eagerly opened it and discovered my parents had sent me some English pig in the post.

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Actually it was four rounds of sliced black pudding, possibly the one thing from England that I miss most: A friend told me the other day the whereabouts of a butcher here that sells salsiccia di sangue, (blood sausage) so I’ll be giving them a try in the near future. The package came with wine gums and Malt Easter bunnies for OH, but I’m now the happy bunny, with four slices of black pudding residing in my freezer, ready for a special occasion.

Deal or No Deal

At the side of our house is a tiny scrap of land barely 60msq that belongs to Domenico; who also owns the ruin out front: Domenico’s Ruin. On this land stands two skinny olive trees, now the only way to these trees is through my gate and down the steps attached to the side of the house. A few weeks ago Domenico told me he’d need to strim the land in readiness for harvesting the olives in November. Being a good neighbour I told him we’d clean his land and strim it for him, which we did today: or rather Seppe did with his strimmer with chain attachment. I’d mentioned to Seppe that I’d like to put a fence around the edge of the land joining it to ours to keep the dogs from running down into the olive groves owned by other people, but would need to speak to Domenico first.

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So today we’re finishing off filling the frame for the patio with rubble from the restoration and clearing Domenico’s land of weeds, when he appears. Seppe asks him if we can put the fence up to keep the dogs in, and at first he’s against the idea, “It’s my land,” he says. We explain that we know that, and we just want to make it secure. He asks what we are doing and we explain that we are building a patio, a gravelled area and a vegetable plot. “I used to grow my vegetables on this piece of land,” he tells us pointing to his 60msq patch. “Maybe you can buy it from me?” We ask how much and the price starts at €2,000 and we say no, €500 and so on until he says €1,500 and we say no more than €1,000 and we’ll think about it.

We agree that he can come to work on the land any time he wants and we’ll unlock the gate, “Oh, I only want the olives.” he shakes his head, “I don’t want to work this tiny piece of land.”  We then say to him that we’ll keep it clean for him and not let it get overgrown. “Well, why don’t you use it for your vegetables then?” We are a little confused by this. “Shame to waste it, the soil is good, so why don’t you work the land?” We thank him for his generosity and he responds by saying, “And think about if you want to buy it.”

Buy it and turn it into an allotment, or grow on it for free… Deal or no deal?

Shy Vegetables

The dogs are outside playing with a tennis ball they’ve shredded playing Tug of War I sit watching as I enjoy a cool iced lemon tea. The iPod shuffles and, Kids in America by Kim Wilde plays as a huge dragonfly skips over the pumpkin flowers that are in bloom. I glance over and spot a swollen fruit amid the orange flowers, I’m sure there was no burgeoning pumpkin there yesterday. One thing about growing vegetables here in Italy, is they seem to appear overnight, especially the courgettes (zucchini). I’m sure the courgette is a shy vegetable, because you spot the flowers and in amongst the huge leaves you see a tiny green fruit and no matter how often you check nothing seems to happen then one morning you just happen to notice a great, green baton sticking out, as if it’s swollen overnight.

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I’m particularly pleased with my tomatoes, I’ve only planted two plants this year; a bush variety that produces the typical long Italian fruit, known in the UK as plum tomatoes. For a while due to the cool spring they didn’t do very much, but now that the weather has been good both bushes are laden with fat fruits, that have only just started to redden. This year I won’t have enough to make passata, but I’ll have steady supply for salads and home-made pasta sauces. I may even combine them with some of my sundried chillies and store some pots of arrabiata sauce in the freezer, for a winter warmer later in the year.

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I have been harvesting basil as it’s been flourishing and have frozen it, although the leaf tends to darken during freezing and once defrosted looks dreadful it still tastes good in sauces. I’ve been very disappointed with the purple basil I’ve sown. It’s been very slow growing and hardly any of them have flourished into productive, bushy plants. The two things I’m looking forward to harvesting are the figs from the huge tree outside and the pomegranates that are swelling upon a bush we have inherited. Once the house is complete we shall begin work on restoring our land from a unproductive tangle of green into a fully functioning orto/allotment that will cater for most of our fruit and vegetable requirements throughout the year. Michele has already given me the benefit of his advice regarding the sowing of fava (broad) beans and I wonder, as cabbages do so well here, will Brussels sprouts hack it in the Italian countryside?