Hello, I’m Mario & I love gardening the Italian way
I was born in a small town just outside of Naples in Italy and came to Australia in the 1950’s to live with my extended family. As with most Italian families, growing our own food and making wine was a way of life and especially important when food was scarce and there was a large family to feed. Sustainable gardening and making use of things that were at hand were essential.
I’m bringing to you the traditional techniques used by Italians to grow tasty, fresh fruits and vegetables and how to get the best results without spending too much money. Along the way, I’ll be sharing some amusing family stories and my Traditional Family Recipes for you to enjoy, all using fresh garden produce,
Tomato Sauce Day
Tomato sauce (sugo) making-day is a summer tradition well known by every southern Italian family. Tomatoes are a staple in Italian cooking and the sauce is the foundation of many dishes. When the tomatoes are ripe things have to move fast. We would grow a lot of tomatoes but also needed to buy in some to make the day worthwhile and to produce enough sauce for the whole extended family for a year.
We would start at around 5 am, preparing the tomatoes, washing and trimming then passing them through a crusher. At first this was a hand operated device, but with kilos of fruit to process we eventually got an electric crusher. This pulped the fruit and sieved out the skins and seeds. Everybody was involved in this and it was hard work. Next, the pulp was bottled, usually in old beer-bottles of the Pickaxe brand, which were very strong. The bottles were topped with a crown cap ready to be cooked. Most of the time the only ingredient was pure tomatoes.
Of-course no Italian family get-together would without the Italian feast to feed all the hungry workers. This would include the essential tomato spaghetti, salami, breads and red wine (home-made of course).
The next step was the good old method of backyard cookery. An old 44-gallon drum was placed on a wood fire in the yard and the 100 or so bottles were carefully placed in, layer upon layer. They were covered in water and Pop lit the fire. So the preserving process had begun. He had to look after the fire through the night by himself as no-one else wanted to stay up.
Tomato Sauce Recipe
This is the basic traditional recipe for most Italian tomato sauces. It really has only one ingredient and that’s the ripest, most luscious and reddest tomatoes you can find, vine-ripened of-course! Usually these are ‘Roma’ as this variety has dense flesh. ‘San Marzano’ is another excellent variety.However this recipe is for all those lovely tomatoes you have grown in your garden.
If you have a preserving kit, or even beer bottles and a 44 gallon drum, you place the crushed tomatoes in that and simmer. However, using sterilized, warmed glass jars will work just as well, making the sauce on your stove top just like you would make jam.
Firstly wash your tomatoes, remove any stems and cut out the hard core if necessary. If you have a mouli or tomato crusher use that to separate out the skins and seeds. Passing the skins through a number of times will remove as much of the flesh as possible. If you don’t have these machines, cut a small cross in the base of each tomato, cover them in boiling water for 2 minutes and the skin will come off easily. You will then need to blend up the flesh or chop finely (a bit messy).
Put the sauce on the stove and bring to a simmer. Add some salt if you wish (about half a teaspoon per kilo). Let it cook gently for at least one hour. In the meantime, have your sterilized and warmed glass containers ready with a basil leaf placed in each. I would wash the basil and dip briefly in boiling water to clean it of any bacteria.
When ready, put the hot sauce in each jar, filling to the top and seal immediately. Leave to cool and wipe any spills off the outside. These will keep for a long time in your pantry, but refrigerate when opened. Use this sauce as a base in any recipe requiring tomatoes, I even put it in soups to make them tastier!
Broad beans are delicious and an easy-to-grow winter crop. They are a staple food in Italy and are often dried and turned into crunchy snacks – a great healthy food. Put them in any available space as they will not only produce a crop, but also add nitrogen to the soil. This helps the plants around them and the ones you will plant when the beans are finished.
The ones pictured are growing just down the side of a driveway in a spare spot between some shrubs. This area is more for ornamentals but was going spare and the Italian way is to use every bit of space available to produce food! I just added some compost and planted the beans in rows about 3 cm deep.
They may need some support depending upon the amount of wind. You can use stakes in a few rows with lengths of twine to make a fence, so the beans can support themselves as they grow. You see the lovely basket of pods I harvested, you can let them get to this size or pick them while young and slice up into salads.
When in Rome some years ago travelling with my lovely wife Jennifer and our son Adrian, we stopped at a small restaurant for lunch. We chose a dish that was typically Italian and one so delicious, that it has stayed in our memory since then as a highlight of our stay.
It was broad bean and bacon soup. Jennifer has made a recipe based on this dish which has its own special Australian (Adelaide) touch. If you haven’t heard of the famous South Australian ‘Pie Floater’, this will be a treat. Please try it and find out just how great broad beans can be.
Broad Bean and Smoky Bacon Soup
(Australia meets Italy)
This is a version of the South Australian ‘Pie Floater’ only using broad beans instead of peas.
The better the ingredients the greater the flavour, so try and source hand-made products if possible
700 g broad beans – if large, remove the outer skin
100 g naturally smoked bacon
1 brown onion – finely chopped
1 potato – unpeeled and diced
3 cloves garlic – chopped
1 litre chicken stock – home-made of-course
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Secret Ingredient: One good quality home-made meat pie for each person!
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the bacon until lightly browned. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until soft. Add the broad beans and potato and sauté for 3 minutes.
Add the warm chicken stock and bring to the simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until the potatoes and beans are tender.
Use a blender to blend the soup till smooth and bring back to the simmer. Meanwhile heat your pie in the oven.
Serve in a large bowl, placing the hot pie in the centre, (or half a pie depending on your appetite), and top with some tomato sauce. Bellisimo!