Whenever I mention I’m attempting to grow parsnips here in Abruzzo, it seems the professionals come out of the woodwork. So far I’ve been advised:
1. The reason they don’t grow here is because the earth is too stony and the roots split. I find this difficult to believe considering they grow beetroot and carrots without too many problems.
2. The Italian’s don’t grow parsnips because they take such a long time to mature and they’d rather use the land for faster more productive crops. This I can half-believe, but the orto’s around here are filled with maturing fennel for such a long time that it negates this argument.
3. Parsnips don’t grow in Italy and this is apparent by there being no traditional recipes that contain them. I agree with the lack of parsnip related recipes, I can honestly say that I have never come across a Piemontese parsnip pesto or a Calabrian chilli and parsnip sugo, but that doesn’t mean the vegetable wont grow here. The growing conditions in middle and northern Italy are ideal for parsnip growing; I do wonder if further south it may be too dry and hot. This said though, I can hardly see the seed sitting below ground and vehemently denying to germinate just because the soil surrounding it is Italian.
So I now have my two newly painted black, half oil drums in situ on the orto in readiness for filling and eventually planting up should my parsnips germinate. The other barrel has three potato plants I have chitted from a Alfred Bartlett potato I smuggled into the country from the UK during my recent trip over.
Should the toilet roll method fail, I have enough seeds to do a second sowing direct into the barrel at a later stage.
We’ve been working on the back garden for the past few days and lunch has generally been a sandwich eaten sat in the sunshine. Today however, as the time approached one o’clock I put a pan of water on the hob and grabbed a few things from the fridge to prepare lunch. Then I heard those seven words, when spoken by an Italian will strike fear into any foreigner. No not, ‘What-a ya doing with-a my wife eh?’ Nor, ‘Touch-a ma car I touch-a ya face’. No, these words chilled the English blood in my veins, more than a visit from five men in black suits carrying violin cases saying, ‘Ya know what-a happen if-a ya squeal?’’ A horses head in the bed appears tame compared to an Italian saying to you, “Can you cook some pasta for me?”
Suddenly what was just going to be spaghetti with pesto becomes a trial. It couldn’t be more nerve wracking if Michelangelo had asked me casually, “Oi, can you just paint the eyes on the baby Jesus for me while I pop to the loo?” So the free pasta we got from the local supermarket gets put back and a fresh packet of maccheroni alla chitarra by De Cecco is removed from the cupboard, after all the Italian in question is from Fara San Martino, so it would be impolite to serve pasta made anywhere else other than Fara. The jar of pesto goes back onto the shelf and the freshly made one in the fridge is retrieved along with the hunk of Parmesan.
Beads of sweat form on my brow. Questions race through my head; is there enough salt in the water? Is it a rolling boil? How long shall I leave it in for? not to mention the whole al-dente issue that we’re constantly reminded of. Several minutes later it was assembled and served with lashings of grated parmesan on top and I waited for the response from the Italian man sat on the patio. He chewed, nodded, smiled then said, “It’s okay.”
Later that day when breathing and heart rate had returned to normal, he said, “Your pasta today was good.” Result, a smiling straniero in middle Italy.