Italian Cooks Really Know Their Vegetables
Italian cooks deal with cooking their vegetables better than anyone in the Western world. Italian farmers have been growing veg for a very long time indeed and right from the very beginning they put tender loving care into the art of market gardening.
The only Europeans who might have had a bit of a head-start on growing vegetables would be the Greeks, but the ancient Greeks were more concerned in cultivating broad beans, chickpeas, onions, garlic, cabbage and lentils.
The ancient Romans, on the other hand, were keen producers and consumers of vegetables right from the beginning of time, and this should not surprise one as they boasted having no fewer than 37 different varieties of peas as well as many types of shallots, onions, cucumbers (which were the absolute favourite vegetable of Emperor Tiberius at every meal when in season); there were also leeks (these were Nero’s best which he used to improve his singing voice), European squash, radishes, horseradish, salsify, parsnips, turnips, carrots, beets, and a wide range of greens.
Greens included mustard, fennel, parsley, ram, rosemary and laurel which is still eaten with great gusto in Italy in today’s modern world, but hardly anywhere else (these include rocket and rasparella which is a Roman favourite).
Italian agricultural knowledge pre-dates the Romans and even the Latins – agricultural expertise goes right back to the time of the Etruscans who were intensely devoted to farming – so much so, that they even based their religion on the ownership of land. The Etruscans were the first to master the art of drainage, irrigation, pruning, fertilisation of crops and crop rotation. The Romans mastered the art of persuading lettuce to head, developed exciting, new varieties of cabbage including cauliflower, broccoli and chard, and possibly kohlrabi and grew the absolute best asparagus in the ancient world in Ravenna which is known to produce the finest asparagus in modern times.
Italy is well-known for its invigorating, stimulating, vitamin-packed veg which seems to be more colourful and appetising than anywhere else in the world today.