There are so many option when considering Mediterranean Cuisine, so this week we have decided to focus on Bitter Sweet vegetables. These tend to be of the leafy variety. We will also look at some of the staples used in Mediterranean cuisine. Let's start with one of my favourites - Rocket, and its wild form, Arugula.
ARUGULA/ROCKETThe distinctive spicy, peppery flavour of rocket makes it a popular choice for growing at home. Rocket is rich in Vitamin C and potassium and has been grown in the Mediterranean region since Roman times. We have three different rockets in our range here at Kings Seeds, so you should be able to find one that suits your tastes and growing conditions. The Organic Rocket is consistently in our Top 20 sellers. The three varieties are:
This seed has been grown organically and is the most popular of all our rockets. It is constantly one of our top 20 varieties, which is impressive when you consider that we stock 1000 varieties of seed here at Kings Seeds.
This is the wild rocket with the Italian name. The two main differences when compared to the standard rocket are that Arugula has a rounded leaf and is slower to bolt.
The leaves on this rocket are deeply notched and pointy, similar to the dandelion. It is also slower to bolt than the standard rocket.
Try growing the three varieties side-by-side and enjoy the differences. Rocket is a great salad green to grow in your home garden because it matures quickly (rocket can usually be harvested within 28 days from sowing). Rocket can be sown directly into garden beds or into containers and is excellent for adding a bit of variety to salads and sandwiches. My favourite way to use rocket it to add some into cooked veges or adding rocket to a pizza just before serving.
Chicory is an easy to grow, all-year-round salad vegetable. It has a slightly bitter, tangy flavour, and comes in several different shapes: long cos-like or round and compact like a medium size ball. We have several radicchio types to try:
This is dark red and round.
Red Treviso Early
Long slender shaped, this variety is green in summer and turns a beautiful red with white veins as the cooler weather of autumn arrives.
This is a green variety in our organic range. Sugarloaf resembles a large cos lettuce with a very dense head of leaves.
This is a new addition to my garden. Gerard recommended it a couple of seasons ago. The crisp, crunchy texture is wonderful - especially adding some nice salad greens to your diet during the winter. It is the biggest selling salad green in France and is worth trying in your garden. It has a low profile here in NZ but is well worth sowing and growing! The varieties we have here at Kings Seeds are:
Verte de Cambrai
Grow this in early spring (it can handle a bit of frost) before the weather gets too hot, or in autumn. This variety can bolt in warmer weather and is best grown in the cooler temperatures. Just pick a few leaves as needed, and enjoy the nutty flavour.
Dutch Large Seeded
With this variety, the whole plant can be harvested and used as a salad green. The leaf is larger and more upright than Verte de Cambrai. For those of you who prefer to buy organic seed, this variety of corn salad is from our organic range.
You may also know Corn Salad as Lamb's Lettuce. It gets this name because of the shape of the leaves.
To get a good mix of salad leaves, we recommend one or more of our really popular Mescluns. What could be better than saving money on those expensive bags of mesclun from the supermarket? Growing your own means it is fresh, fresh, fresh. Mesclun mixes are easy to grow, providing lots of variety to make your salads delicious and interesting. You can grow mesclun in small patches in your garden or in containers. Sucessive sowing means that you can cut fresh salad greens every day, add a dressing and serve in a few minutes. You could try one or more of the following mesclun mixes from our range:
For a good Mediterranean mix, our Italian Mesclun includes rocket, chicory, cress, kale, corn salad, endive, chervil and parsley. This one is consistently in our Top 50 Sellers.
In our organic range, our Organic Mesclun includes corn salad, cress, rocket, spinach, red beet, red cabbage, broccoli and lettuce.
We have had this one in our range since 1985 and it is still increasing in popularity. You will find a little bit of everything, including endive, corn salad, rocket, chicory, spinach, lettuce, beets and mustard.
Not everyone in my family likes the varietal taste of mesclun, so I grow the iceberg style lettuces for them and have patches of mesclun for my salads - perfect for happy salad eaters all round.
Salad Purslane is another summer salad plant that is definitely worth a try. It tends to be slightly sour and salty at the same time and is popular in Europe for salads and garnishing. We have one that is a blend of red and gold leaf types with orange stems. It has a crisp, mild taste.
Purslane is widely used in East Mediterranean countries and has been found at many prehistoric sites.
Eggplants are at their best when they are firm, shiny and richly coloured. They are best started in late spring and early summer. They require three months to mature, so get your seeds sown as soon as temperatures permit. These come in teardrop or long shaped fruit and the Mediterranean dishes they are known for are moussaka and ratatouille.
Black Beauty & Long Purple
These are both in our organic range, with the Black Beauty being a large teardrop shape and the Long Purple being 20cm long.
Florence Round Purple
Watch these unusual eggplants change their colour hue daily. They are beautiful in shades of lavender, and are sometimes striped with creamy white.
White Star F1
A teardrop shaped eggplant in a unique creamy white colour, White Star can be picked at baby stage or left to grow to 200-400g.
This variety (from the Adriatic region) is popular with the Greeks and Italians. It is a long cylindrical fruit that has violet and white stripes.
Capsicum is referred to as sweet peppers in our catalogue. There is a wonderful variety available for growing in your home garden! Modern breeding methods have created additional varieties like the small lunch box types, the prolific croppers and good disease resistant types, so finding something that suits your requirements should be easy. The sweet peppers basically fall into two categories- bullhorn or the mild spicy.
Our biggest seller is Marconi Red (which can be found in our Organic range). Marconi Red is a traditional Italian style sweet pepper. We have added two new marconi style peppers to our range this year - Mama Mia Rossa, which is red - and a yellow variety called Mama Mia Giallo. These are both prolific fruiters. The next most popular is the Dulce Espana which is a sweet Spanish variety. Another new Greek pepper we added is Golden Pepperoni which is used extensively on pizza and antipasto.
Health-wise, sweet peppers are a good source of Vitamin C and antioxidants. They are an important part of a healthy Mediterranean diet in combination with tomatoes, basil and olives. Sweet Peppers are very versatile in the kitchen as they can be eaten raw, cooked, stuffed, with cheeses or preserved.
A staple ingredient in Mediterranean dishes, we couldn't have a blog post on Mediterranean cuisine without mentioning some of our varieties of tomatoes that are commonly used in the Mediterranean. Paste tomatoes are often referred to as low-acid, due to the flesh ratio being higher, with a small seed cavity. This makes them perfect for creating sauces. Beefsteak tomatoes are great for when you need those big slices or wedges of tomato. One big slice is perfect for your sandwich. Cherry tomatoes are lovely thrown in your salads, especially when you use a varieties of colours!
- Roma (organic)
- San Marzano (organic)
- Orange Banana
- Oxheart, Orange Oxheart, Albenga
Beefsteak tomatoes:- Beefsteak select (organic)
- Beef Maestro F1
- Brandywine Pink, Yellow, Blend (organic)
My current favourite tomato is Country Taste F1 which I grew last summer and found to be really delicious. I was quite sad when the crop finished so I will definitely be growing a few more this year.
Cherry tomatoes:- Black Striped Cherry is a new cherry tomato in our range this year
- Gardeners Delight (organic)
- Cocktail Mix
I am taken with the Honeybee F1 which has a cute name, and has bright yellow sweet tomatoes which are delicious picked warm from the vine.
The question we probably get the most is "which are the tastiest variety of tomatoes you have?". What about trying Tomato Jaune Flamme which has been added to our range due to it winning the 'Best Tasting Tomato' award at the Diggers Club Australia competition this year.
If you are a keen tomato grower, check out a previous blogpost on tomatoes for a bit more information on growing tomatoes and details about some of our other tomato varieties.
We have previously written a blogpost on basil, so if you would like to read a bit more about growing different varieties of basil, please check it out.
Look forward to kicking back and enjoying your produce from your garden with the vision below in your mind.