Photogenic and trendy vegetables

I vividly remember the first time I saw a romanesco.  I was working at my first job in the UK, and our office manager had an organic vegetable box delivered to the office on a biweekly basis.  Usually it was filled with the bog standard UK produce, like potatoes, onions, mushrooms and all manner of root vegetables.  But one day, she pulls out this romanesco and says “wow, take a look at this guys!”  I instantly thought of mathematical fractals like those on the cover of the Soup Dragon’s Lovegod album.  I bought that cassette in middle school and it was my favourite for over a year.  Man, that ages me, huh?

Anyhow, so I have since seen this spiralling brassica in grocery stores, but for some crazy reason I have never bought one until now.  Goodness, what a mistake!  Romanesco is gorgeous, both visually and on the palate. If only my picky eight year old would eat vegetables, romanesco could be a standard dinner dish.  I suppose I could blend it up into a soup and he’d never be the wiser!  But looking at it while eating is not an insignificant part of the enjoyment.  Oh well, perhaps in 10 years he’ll eat veggies!  In the meantime, I’ll have to buy it again and take some arty close up photos (but before it’s been sitting in the fridge for a week, getting browned corners!) to put up in the kitchen.  It’s just so amazingly lovely to look at!


Unbeknownst to me, I purchased a rather “sought after” vegetable today.  I had gone into my local produce store (gotta love Italian produce!) to buy some red grapefruit and tomatoes.  But then I saw this grassy looking plant in the refrigerated section.  The grocer saw my perplexed stare and told me that it was agretti, and that I should try it.  He told me to cut off the reddish stems and roots so that only the green bits are left, to wash it really well, and to throw it into boiling water with a bit of oil, salt and lemon juice for 4-5 minutes.  Easy peasy right?  So I added that to my bill.  It was only €1.81 for a fistful bunch.  I didn’t think anything of it until I started making dinner and thought I should google it to see what folks make with it and what exactly it is.  It appears to have made quite a big splash in the UK recently, due to an appearance on MasterChef and in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant.  The media has been taunting readers about not trying it sooner.  British chefs are apparently fighting over it, and agretti seeds have flown off the shelves and are only on sale in the UK for next year!

Like I said, I didn’t know anything about agretti when I bought it. I had to have the grocer write down the name for me because I was sure to forget it by the time I walked home. But now I feel like a hipster who ought to have an iphone, ear much smarter glasses, and perhaps drive a vespa or prius.  OK, so I really don’t feel like that and am perfectly happy with my old non-fruit phone and way out-of-fashion glasses!  But I do laugh at the idea that my rather inexpensive dinner ingredient is some posh foodie menu item.  In a few years agretti be passée, and I’ll like it all the same.

OK, enough waxing on about the pretension of the food… How did the bloody stuff taste??  It didn’t have a strong taste.  “Un gusto delicato” the grocer had told me, and he was right, like he always is about fruit and veg.  I felt it had a flavour reminiscent of a salty celery, but without any of the horrible strings that celery has.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of celery, and I really really dislike the texture of their strings.  So agretti is a great celery alternative for me.  But I suppose the texture isn’t quite as robust to use as a celery substitute, even if you could get your hands on it easily. It was nice though, and I’ll for sure buy and make it again if for nothing else than the ease and speed to prepare and cook it.  My husband was rather more impressed than me (even before I told him that it was in hot demand in the UK) and lapped up nearly the entire pot in no time. Not bad for €1.81!  How much does Jamie Oliver charge for this stuff in his restaurant????


Vecchi semi – Old seeds

So, I realise it’s a bit odd that my last posting is about my long-awaited success in the allotment lottery in Edinburgh, and now here I am looking for seeds in Italy.  But a 6-month sabbatical is being spend here in Italy.  I’ll still tend to my allotment though, and hopefully also to a nice terrace garden.  That is if I can find some good Italian seeds…


After scouring the Italian internets, looking for seme and only finding sites selling marijuana seeds, I vented my frustration on Twitter. Thankfully some very nice advice lead me to searching for semenze instead, which was much more fruitful.  The only problem is that after gleefully shopping on a few sites for a couple of hours each, I would get to the payment page, only to find that either the billing address is stuck on Italy, or they won’t let you have a different country for delivery and billing.  Doesn’t anyone buy seeds as gifts for friends?  I guess not.  Eventually I found a few websites that were more promising, but it’s always nicer to actually touch the packet and buy it from a person, or so I thought.

Now ordinarily I could walk into my closest supermarket or home improvement shop and find at least one round spinning display of at least 50 vegetable and flower seed packets.  But not in Italy.  Sometimes I can buy a spray painted succulent (yeah, who knew anybody could or would buy such a thing?) or a pot of forced bulbs in the super market, but seeds for something to grow outside are nowhere to be found.  Again, after a Twitter suggestion to try looking outside of the city centre (centro cittá, but pronounced “chen-tro chee-ta” which for some reason I love saying) and spent a good chunk of time of last night searching online for plant stores, agrarian stores, and garden stores. Armed with an address for a promising sounding Centro Verde (Green Centre) today I went out in search of some seeds.

I came to where the Centro Verde ought to be and found this.

It looked sort of “planty” to I walked down the gravel driveway and into the back poly tunnels which had a few people doing something that approximated working.  They all stopped and stared at me, and since there was absolutely no signage to tell me if this was a place of business or private property, I prepared myself for a phrase to say just in case I was walking into someone’s home, or a private non-commercial nursery.

Thankfully they had a cash register and it appears they do sell plants.  So, I say that I’m looking for semi de verdura (vegetable seeds) and am escorted to small store with lots of dog-eared boxes and dusty bottles filling roughly 10% of the tired looking shelves.  In one corner there is a peg-board with lots of empty seed packet hanger bars.  But only about a dozen of the bars have any seed packets hanging from them.  I say I’m looking for carote (actually I had my heart set on heirloom white or purple carrots, but in this place I would settle for standard orange, heirloom or F1).  No semi de carote.  OK, I also wanted to find big leaved Basil, but again I would have settled for basil seeds of any variety.  I stupidly asked for basilica (very large church) but the lady kindly corrected my broken Italian and said basilico (basil) sí. Score, it’s even the basilica-sized basil I wanted!  There is a single packet of basilico, folia di lattuga (lettuce leaved Basil) so I take that packet.  I had hoped for perhaps some interesting yellow or black tomatoes.  But sadly there are no tomato seeds to be seen. I look for bell pepper, again really hoping for the new purple varieties, but not even a standard green one is there.  They only had cauliflower, spinach and kale, but I’m looking for sexy Italian vegetables.

Determined to try at least one other plant, I grab a packet of nasturizio (nasturtiums), turn over the packet in search of a price to make sure that they aren’t horrendously expensive, only to see the expiry dates!  2011 on my basilico and 2012 on the nasturzio packet! The layer of dust I can feel on the packets should have warned me.  Hmmm, the lady tells me that they are €1 each, so that’s €2 in my hands already.  I’m still a bit shocked at the dates, but I walked half an hour to get here and this is the only place I have seen any seeds in my month and half in Italy, so I decide to just buy them and see how I get on. My fingers and toes are crossed that a few of these old seeds will germinate.