Roses

One thing that’s definitely different about being here in Italy is the abundance of flowers in January. Down the lane roses that have become naturalised are in bloom, they have no scent but none-the-less brighten up this drab month. Tiny orange marigolds are holding their heads up and there’s a few bluey-purple periwinkles popping up. Sarah’s house has some tiny white flowers outside that look as if they could be made of delicate china and a frothy yellow flower dances in the breeze down by Antonio’s house on the corner near the war memorial. Further down the road is a house with a huge pot filled with bright yellow daisy type flowers and the last of the woodland cyclamen are packing away their pink and purple bonnets.

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My mind has been on preparing the orto for this years’ produce, as I had a limited space last year I’m ready to get on with growing on a similar scale to when I had my allotment back in the UK. This said, it’s tricky getting your head around sowing and planting times when you’re used to the UK seasons. Last year I was sowing my tomato seeds in March when everyone around me was starting to plant out their plants, so I’ve calculated that I need to start off around 8 to 10 weeks earlier depending upon the plants. I’ve already got a tray of fava beans started off and as soon as they get several true leaves they’ll be transplanted into the orto, and I’ll sow a second lot for a later crop. I have sweet peas sown for cut flowers this summer and will be looking at buying some bedding as soon as it becomes available around March. My pumpkin seeds are in a pot, as I always find they do much better if started early and are allowed to establish themselves as healthy plants before they go mad and spread out ready to fruit.

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Last year was a good year for chillies and this year I’ll be growing habanero and Thai birds eye varieties, the habanero need to be started off now so they’re now sown and I reckon two plants should give us enough hot chillies for the year with a good proportion to dry and store for the winter months. I’m also looking forward to growing some new things, like cucumbers, peppers and fennel which I’ve never attempted before. I’ll even be having a bash at growing some Brussels sprouts, as they grow cabbage over here quite successfully so I imagine they’ll do okay.

I’ve just got back from spending a week over in the UK, and while I was there my bezzie mate, Glo who knows I love crazy signs, gave me a calendar with unusual signs pictured for each day, and I promised to post the sign that corresponds with the blog posting, so here’s today’s which appropriately is an Italian one. (Apologies for the poor quality photo, I’m not organised yet.)

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Seasonal Eating

One of the things I like most about being here in the Italian countryside is the wealth of fresh produce that’s on offer. Unlike the UK where the supermarkets are filled with the same fruit and veg the year through, here it’s very seasonal. For the eco-conscious, you can be assured that the fava beans and strawberries you are purchasing have raked up very few miles and therefore have a miniscule carbon footprint.

One of the benefits of buying local produce, and I do see this as a benefit, is it’s not been tampered with by the EU. Peppers come in all shapes and sizes, some look like they’ve been stepped on and others look like someone has had a go at them with a bicycle pump. That dreadful uniformity in UK supermarkets isn’t here, even the supermarket chains here sell fresh produce that would give an MEP nightmares. Now don’t get me wrong there is some imported foodstuffs, bananas, pineapples etc. but the majority of fresh produce is local and thus seasonal. We’re just leaving the artichoke and strawberry season, but now stalls everywhere are groaning under the weight of melons and shops are displaying signs telling everyone that cherries are now in stock.

A few days ago I read a post about broad beans on the Facebook page of The Olive House Italy, a beautiful self-contained, holiday villa in Roccascalegna, that grows its own produce for the guests staying there to use themselves. What a good idea, no popping to the shops to get your veggies, just walk down to the orto and pick it fresh.

Fave, or as we Brits know them broad beans are coming to the end of their season and yesterday I managed to get a kilo from our local fruit and veg shop. One of the other benefits of buying local is the price, the kilo of beans, two large lettuce, a melon and a cucumber came to just €3,70. (A quick price comparison with a well known UK supermarket shows me that in England I’d have paid £5.64, that’s €6,58 and the broad beans would have been frozen.)

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Photograph courtesy of The Olive House Italy

In Italy you often see the fava beans in salads, the outer skin is stripped from the bean and the bright green insides are eaten raw. So today I decided to make my own fava bean salad. I always think that the beans go well with mackerel, so after pan frying two medium sized mackerel and setting them aside to cool, I removed the beans from the pods and stripped off the outer skin. Tip, Don’t waste time trying to peel the little blighters, just halve with a knife and pop out the green discs inside. Chop some tomato, cucumber and celery, also take some of the yellow celery leaves out of the heart and add those. Add all the salad ingredients and fava beans into a bowl with some lettuce; I used the frilly one that’s slightly bitter, flake in the mackerel add a pinch of salt and black pepper, mix and serve. One thing that works well with mackerel and broad beans is creamed horseradish, and although this isn’t an Italian ingredient a dollop went well with the dish.

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Click the link to visit The Olive House Italy