How to Grow: Italian Vegetables

Learn about some unusual Italian Vegetables to grow in your garden this spring.

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“Mange” was a common word I heard when I was growing up in my Italian-American family. Italians love many things, especially good food. In particular, they love their vegetables. While most of us think of tomatoes, garlic, and eggplant when we say “Italian vegetables”, there are some unusual vegetables you should try in your garden.

Italians love wild greens. Agretti is a popular Italian green used in upscale restaurants. It has a salty, tart flavor, that’s truly a unique taste sensation. It can grow in salt water, but also does fine in most gardeners. Plant in spring with cool weather and you’ll be enjoying 8 to 12 inch tall greens in about 40 days.

I’ve talked about eating dandelions before, but if you truly want to experience this green, try the Catalogna varieties such as puntarella. Puntarella has a milder dandelion flavor than its wild cousin with just a hint of bitter taste. The leaves are best thinly sliced then plunged in ice cold water to curl. It’s great mixed with lettuce in salads.

I remember every Easter eating fennel salad at my mother’s house. Globe fennel has an anise flavor and it grows best with cool spring weather, plenty of moisture and proper thinning. Try it mixed with pink grapefruit sections and mint leaves for a sweet, refreshing salad.

Finally, how about a root crop that tastes like a mix between asparagus and oysters? Scorzonera literally means “black bark”. This thin rooted perennial plant has a black skin and a white root. Grow it in a raised bed on well-drained, loose soil and harvest in fall, being carefully not to break the brittle roots. Roast it or saute for the best flavor.

Now for this week’s tip, with this early spring, tender perennials such as lavender are starting to grow. Remove the winter mulch when you see signs of new growth, but protect the plants with a floating row cover during chilly nights.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.