Guest Blog from Paolo Arrigo
This is a guest blog from Paolo Arrigo who together with his wife Alessandra runs ‘Seeds of Italy’, the treasure trove of seeds from all the regions of Italy. Every year I make sure I have a few packets on my list of things new things to try (Zucchini da Fiori — Flowering courgette my star of the show this year), but with such a wide selection it’s difficult to know what to chose. I made the big mistake of asking Paolo which 10 packets he would take to a desert island… He sent me this charming list by e-mail.
1) Stella Alpina (Eidelweiss)
My Italy is mountains, cheese, lakes and goats! Not sand, sea and sun! My Italy is Vin Caldo and polenta and not ice cream and prosecco. My parents are from the Alps and temperatures reach -18c in the winter, though in my wife’s region (Friuli which borders Yugoslavia and Austria) in the extremes it can go in excess of -30c! I love deep red wines you find in these areas, game, hearty peasant food, salumi and hams, cheeses to die for, rich alpine butter and milk, chocolate, hazelnuts (the best ones come from Piemonte and have an ‘IGP’, blueberries which grow wild all over Piemonte and mushroom picking.
2) Tomato Cuor di Bue
Toms are personal and this is my favourite. Pure meat, not a sack of seeds or water inside. Like cutting a steak, the lowest acidity of all the Italian tomatoes. It comes from Liguria but is also a national variety of France (couer de boeuff spelt wrong no doubt) as borders stop people, not plants.
3) Basil Foglia di lattuga
Lettuce leaf basil. Leaves bigger than your hand. Wrap up mozzarella balls and drizzle in olive oil. Say no more.
4) Bean Meraviglia di Venezia
marvel of Venice are yellow beans. Boil 8 mins, strain, dry and dress with a vinaigrette whilst still warm for the best bean salad. Stringless, they are like eating butter.
5) Courgette Romanesco
nutty, creamy, produces loads of flowers. These are the little courgettes finger sized you see in Italy with the flowers still on. We pick our courgettes medium sized in the UK.
6) Scorzanera black salsify
Plant it spring and summer and harvest autumn/winter. Tastes like prawns and carrots. Peel and put into water with lemon juice, boil and serve with a really, really good olive oil or use in stews etc where they will melt into it. Cool vegetable which was grown everywhere from Victorian times to WWII then went out of fashion.
7) Tomato Red Pear Franchi
Large, meaty, really meaty but different to the cuor di bue. Super flavour, scalloped, can have lovely green shoulders. Just an amazing tomato and really high quality.
8) Cavolo Nero Kale
as with all brassicas, sow with heat and harvest with cold. Pan fry in olive oil with pancetta and garlic and serve. Use to make the national dish of Florence, Ribollita Toscana which is made the day before and re-boiled (ribollita) so it has extra flavour.
9) Borlotto bean Lamon
This is the variety that should be used to make the famous dish ‘Pasta e Fagioli’ and it is simply the best quality borlotto bean you can find. Meaty without being meat, a hearty bean used for winter dishes likes stews, casseroles, soups, minestrone, risotto etc. They freeze brilliantly shelled and frozen straight and cook 40 mins from frozen and 30 from fresh.
10) Pumpkin da Marmellata
Jam pumpkins. In Piemonte we do 60% pumpkin and 40% sugar and loads of lemon rind but in the Veneto region they also add Vanilla. It is not a set preserve and the low sugar content is because this pumpkin is just so sweet, the downside being that it is thick but runny and needs to be refrigerated once opened and eaten fairly quickly.
Paolo’s book ‘From Plot to Plate’ is published by Simon and Schuster.