Ciao a tutti! Now that it is early August I am happy to report I am starting to harvest my favorite Italian vegetables: zucchini with their flowers and tomatoes. And I’ve harvested the last of my “new potatoes” and used them to make an easy Monday night dinner.
Some of you may have already seen the Instagram posts of my garden and the dishes I’ve been making with my fresh lettuce and vegetables. I will post the links and include the recipes after the update on how each section of my garden is growing.
As I have mentioned in my previous Your Italian-American Gardening Tips blogs, this year I have been focusing on my raised gardens, and all the wonderful Italian vegetables we can grow, even in a small space.
My hope is that you will enjoy the tips I’ve learned about gardening through many years of experience and be encouraged to start an Italian garden yourself — be it large or small, in a yard or on your porch, or even indoors in pots near a sunny window — after reading the blogs in this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.”
Check out my Instagram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.
Below are my insights on growing and harvesting lettuce, zucchini and their flowers and “new potatoes,” along with recipe ideas. And an update on growing tomatoes is here also, with recipes soon to follow!
And remember the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you want an easy, step-by-step way to learn the Italian of today. Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.
Planting a Lettuce Patch…
and Harvesting – Part 3!
When I last wrote, on June 21, 2020, my blog “Four Salads for Summer Days” focused on the lettuce patch that I had started from seed this spring. Just a quick update on the lettuce before we proceed with my report on the new vegetables…
Now that the hot days of summer are upon us, the lettuce has “bolted” or “gone to seed.” This means that a long stem grows up from the center of the lettuce — very quickly, I might add, usually in a couple of days — and if not cut down will continue to form flowers, after which point the plant dies.
This year, I planted my lettuce in the raised bed that gets sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, which I believe helped lengthen the life of the plants. Also, I discovered that if I cut the center stem from the lettuce near its base, but leave the plant in the ground, the plant’s core will re-grow and provide new lettuce leaves to harvest! So, I have been enjoying lettuce well into the writing of this blog, early August, despite 90+ degree temperatures. Romaine lettuce is said to be more “heat tolerant” than other varieties, and this is what has survived, along with two varieties of red leaf lettuce.
Below are photos from the lettuce patch in late July.
I even had enough Romaine lettuce to make a special July 4th Salad with watermelon, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar.
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Salade du jour. Insalata mista. Made this light and refreshing salad for 4th of July lunch. Romaine lettuce, watermelon and feta cheese. Olive oil on salad leaves and all drizzled with good balsamic vinegar. Add chopped or sliced red onion or scallions and substitute ricotta salata for feta cheese (if you can find it). Now I know summer is really here! Happy 4th of July! #salad #saladecomposée #salade #saladeestar #july4th #july4thweekend #july4th2020 #july4thlunch #july4thluncheon #july4thcelebration #july4thpicnic #insalata #insalataconfrutta #insalataconmelone #salads #saladrecipe #saladrecipes #saladrecipeshare #foodblogger @niafitalianamerican @osia_su
Harvesting Zucchini Flowers
Last May, in my blog “Zucchini, Tomatoes, Strawberries and More!” I reported on how to plant zucchini seeds in mounds for successful fertilization to maximize a zucchini crop. I planted three types of Italian zucchini seeds in three separate mounds. I reserved the third mound in the back for the cucuzza plant, a very long gourd that matures in the summer and is eaten like a zucchini. I’ve already written about cucuzza in last year’s blog: Oregano and Zucchini.
Actually, I planted too many zucchini seeds in each mound this year, because I wanted to be sure to have enough zucchini flowers to harvest for my post on fried zucchini flowers! Check out the images below to see how they have grown in the short time from mid June to early July.
So, by July 3 I had zucchini flowers on the plant in the front mound, which was planted with seeds from Italy called “le bizzarre zucchino,” said to be prized for the flower more than the zucchini. I waited a few more weeks to allow some to be pollinated and start to make zucchinis. By that time, my other zucchini plant had also started to flower. Then I clipped a good number of zucchini flowers to make fried, stuffed flowers.
Clip zucchini flowers when they are closed (usually early morning and late afternoon/evening). Take a bit of the stem along with the flower to make it easier to work with them. Ants and bees sometimes get trapped if they are caught sipping nectar when the flowers close in the latter part of the day, so be careful! My favorite are the flowers that have a small zucchini growing off the base of the flower. They are easy to hold and provide two treats! Check out my method below. These are delicious with any one of three different types of stuffing, or none at all.
Fried Zucchini Flower Appetizers
For the stuffing:
1/4 cup breadcrumbs, 1-2 anchovy fillets, fresh, finely chopped parsley
mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes, anchovy fillets
mozzarella cheese cut into small cubes
For the batter:
1 cup of cold water
3/4 cup of flower + 1/4 cup more as needed
- First, prepare a simple batter of water and flour. This is called “la pastella” in Italian, and is used to obtain a thin, crisp crust for frying vegetables. The secret to the best crust is to let the batter sit for 1 hour so the gluten in the flour has time to “relax,” although this is not absolutely necessary.
- I like to get started with 1 cup of cold water and 3/4 cups of flower. I sift the flower into the water gradually while whisking gently to combine. The final batter should not be too thin or too thick, something like pancake batter. If the batter is too thin, I gradually add more flour, but no more than an additional 1/4 cup. Let the batter rest 1 hour while preparing the zucchini, and during this time it will thicken a bit as well.
- Next, prepare the zucchini flower stuffing if desired. The flowers can also be fried without stuffing, and I usually don’t attempt to stuff the smaller flowers. A favorite stuffing is 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs with an anchovy and some chopped parsley, fried briefly in olive oil until lightly brown. Mozzarella cubes are also delicious when stuffed into a zucchini flower and melt during frying, with or without a small bit of anchovy fillet.
Finally, prepare, stuff and fry the zucchini flowers. Gently rinse each flower and trim off the greenery at the base. Gently open each flower and reach inside to remove the stamen (the long, powdery protrusion with yellow pollen) to allow more room for the stuffing. Also, the stamen can be bitter with some varieties of zucchini. Add a bit of stuffing and then twist gently to close the tip of the flower.
- Fry the zucchini flowers in a large pan of oil over medium high heat. Adjust the heat as you are frying so that the flowers sizzle as they cook but do not allow the oil to become too hot and burn the batter. Turn once or twice so all sides fry evenly. Generally, when the batter takes on a light golden color it is cooked. If the mozzarella melts it may start to seep out of the flower, and this is also a sign to remove the flower from the oil.
Remove each fried zucchini flower with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with a paper towel. After the oil has drained a bit, and while still hot, remove to another plate and sprinkle with salt.
If you do have some zucchinis available to fry, you can cut them in mounds or strips and fry these in the same batter, in the same way, drain, and salt.
8. Serve hot and enjoy as the perfect summer appetizer before an Italian meal!
Angel Hair Pasta with Fried Zucchini
This is a favorite family zucchini dish my mother recently remembered from her childhood. So simple to make, with just zucchini, olive oil and garlic, and so delicious! It is a great way to use some of the many zucchini that should follow the zucchini flowers. Watch this method in real time by clicking the link from my Instagram account:
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One pan pasta with zucchini and garlic for Friday night. From now on I will be posting easy pasta dishes made in one pan, the Italian way, so stayed tuned! For summer we will use our fresh vegetables. To make delicious zucchini and pasta, first take 2-3 cloves of garlic and cut in slices. Start to brown in olive oil. Add freshly sliced zucchini and fry. Remove garlic when it turns brown. Remove zucchini when it is lightly browned. Toss with angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti. Add a bit more oil from the pan and Parmesan cheese and toss again. Enjoy this simple dish! #osnap @niafitalianamerican @rossellarago @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @chicagolanditalians @quartinochicago @osia_su #pastaandzucchini #spaghettiandzucchini #spaghettiandzucchine #spaghettiandzuchinnisquash #zucchinirecipes #zucchinipasta #zucchiniandpasta #pastaandzucchini #pastaandzucchinis #foodblogger #foodbloggersofinstagram #italianfood #italianfoodlover #italianfoodbloggers #italianfoodbloggers🍷🍕🇮🇹 #italianfoodblogger2 #italianfoodblogg #onepanmeal #onepanpasta #onepastachallenge #onepandinner #onepanpastarecipes #onepanpastarecipes @chicagolanditalians @chicagobuffets
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1-2 zucchini, sliced cross-wise
olive oil for frying
1 lb. thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Set a pot of water on the stove to boil for the thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta.
- Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat.
- Add the garlic to the olive oil and let cook a couple of minutes to flavor the olive oil, but don’t let brown.
- Add the zucchini to the olive oil a little at a time, so as not to crowd the pan, and fry over medium to medium-high heat, turning once or twice. At first it will seem like the zucchini are not cooking much, but they will then start to lose water, shrink, and finally turn a light brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a serving bowl.
- Remove the garlic when it turns brown and continue to fry zucchini.
- When almost all the zucchini has been fried, cook the pasta.
- Add the cooked pasta to the bowl with the fried zucchini. Add a bit of the oil from the frying pan and mix to coat.
- Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste, and mix again. Enjoy!
Pulling New Potatoes
This past spring, I found several potatoes in the back of my cupboard that had started to grow eyes, so I tried something new. I cut up the potatoes so each piece had an eye and buried the pieces in large pots outdoors, with the eyes facing upward. I was hoping to grow some “new potatoes,” which are simply potatoes that are pulled to eat before they flower and become mature in the fall. They are, of course, smaller than the mature potatoes but have an exceptionally good flavor.
I have to say, the potatoes grew nicely in the pots through the spring and even into the early summer without any help at all from me. Below is the Instagram video I created when I pulled the last of the “new potatoes” for a Monday night pork chop dinner. If you look closely you can still see the chunk of “old potato” that I started with.
They were so delicious that night for dinner that next year I plan to plant many more to have a continual harvest through the springtime.
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Garden update. Pulled these “new” potatoes a couple of weeks ago. Started them this spring from pieces of potatoes that had sprouted their eyes last winter. You can see my “starter piece” in the video and hear my photographer son sigh because he’d rather be taking videos of people or places! Anyway, they are called “new” because they are pulled before they can fully mature in the fall. Just pull as many potatoes as you need and leave the rest in the ground. Of course, new potatoes will be smaller than mature potatoes so just boil in a little salted water. They have so much flavor I am going to plant an entire plot next spring. Look out for my next video when I cook up a quick dinner with these beauties! #gardeningtip #italiangarden #newpotatoes #growingpotatoes #harvestingnewpotatoes #italiangardener @burpeehg @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @theitaliangardenproject #growyourownfood #growvegetables #growvegetablesathome #growyourownfood #growvegetablesnotlawns #growvegetablesnotgrass #vegetablesinpots #vegetablesincontainers
Monday Night Pork Chops with New Potatoes
and Radish Greens
Below is an Instagram link to a simple dinner I made in two frying pans. Pork chops in olive oil with garlic and rosemary (my favorite way to make them) in one pan and radish greens in olive oil and garlic for the second pan. The bitter radish greens went beautifully with the pork chops. The new potatoes were so flavorful all they needed was a quick boil in water.
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Monday night pork chops with radish greens and new potatoes. This video is from early summer when I first started to harvest my “new” potatoes. See previous video. Just cook pork chops in olive oil flavored with a bit of garlic and fresh rosemary sprigs on a grill pan (salt and pepper to taste) for an easy and delicious dinner. At same time sauté radish greens in garlic flavored olive oil. They cook done very quickly. Boil new potatoes and enjoy their delicious flavor! Buon appetito! #osnap #porkchops #porkchopoftheday #porkchopdinner #radishgreens #newpotatoes #newpotato #rosemary #rosemarino @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @theitaliangardenproject
And, Finally, Growing and Harvesting Tomatoes!
I think every Italian gardener cherishes the appearance of the first ripening tomato more than any other vegetable they are growing. I was very careful this year to follow proper procedures while planting my tomatoes, especially the San Marzano tomatoes I had grown from seed. Please see my previous blogs for more information about growing tomatoes from seed and the best conditions to plant tomatoes.
Once planted, it is a good idea to steak tomato plants, making sure to tie the main stem loosely as it grows. For cherry tomato plants I use a tomato cage, as they tend to have more greenery, but this year I also put a steak in the middle of the cage as the plants became larger in an attempt to tie up the branches and lift them off the ground.
As the tomato plants grew, I followed protocol and pinched off the side shoots, or “suckers” that grow between the main stem and the main branches on many types of tomato plants. ( This included all I had planted this year except the cherry tomato plants.) Pinching off side shoots should allow my plants to direct their energy into producing more tomatoes. In previous years, I was always concerned that I would mistakenly pinch back a flowering branch, so I created this video to show how to find those “useless” side shoots that create greenery instead of tomatoes.
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How to grow tomatoes – pinch off the side shoots so the plant can focus on growing tomatoes instead of leaves! Watch my video and see how easy this is to do. #gardening #italiangarden #tomatoes #growingtomatoes #pinchingoffsideshoots #sideshoots #suckers #italianamerican #italianamericangarden @NIAF @chicagolanditalians @osia_su #italianmade🇮🇹 #kitchengarden #gardening #gardenblogg #gardenblogger #gardenbloggersofinstagram @burpeehg @burpeegardening #gardeningtips #growfoodnotlawns #growfoodnotgrass #growfood #gardeningtips #gardeningtipsforbeginners #gardeningtip #gardeningtipsandricks #tipsforgrowingvegies #tipsforgardening
Tomatoes need full sun and lots of water to thrive — but not too much water! I planted a variety of different tomatoes I had bought from the nursery in a raised garden, and my San Marzano tomatoes in a raised garden and in pots. All did well, and I was careful to water on the many July days we’ve had this summer that were 90+ degrees. But just as my nursery tomatoes started to ripen, down came heavy rain. For several days on end. The very first tomatoes had a split in the skin, an unavoidable problem, but they were delicious just the same. Below are some images of my early ripened tomatoes.
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Tomatoes starting to ripen in the garden (finalmente!). Too much rain this week so one ripe one split but was delicious anyway! San Marzano seedlings are smaller. Still have to wait. Zucchini growing like crazy (note to self: make some fried zucchini flowers) and beans have sprouted. Made a second planting of beans today in the few spaces left and staked the volunteer tomato plants from last year that are doing well. Hopefully this succession planting will give us beans into the late fall. In the background my volunteer Brussels sprout plant from last year flowered, made seeds and now is intent on growing. What a menagerie of plants but hopefully will yield delicious results soon! . @real.food.for.infants.toddlers @theitaliangardenproject @burpeehg @burpeegardening #gardeningtips #gardeninspiration #vegetablegarden #growingtomatoes #growingfood #growingfoodisfun @mygardenmanager @mygardenthismonth #growingzucchini #growingzucchinis #zucchiniflowers #growningbeans #growinggreenbeans #growinggreenbeansfromseeds #successionplanting #growfoodnotlawns #growfoodnotgrass #tomatoes🍅 #tomatoesofinstagram #italiangarden #italiangardens #italiangardenstyle #italianliving
For my next post in August, I will be focusing on “one pan pasta” dishes with the tomato as the star of the dish.
For more (many more!) ideas about how to use those fresh vegetables this summer, visit my Instagram at Conversationalitalian.french