Italian cuisine has never been so popular as it is right now, with ‘cooking class holidays’ and ‘gastronomical tours’ in Italy having become extremely popular. Olive-oil sales are rocketing while Italian/Mediterranean cooking books are being sold, almost before they hit the shelves and Italian farmers can hardly keep up with the worlds demand for ‘food made in Italy’.
The world appears to love Italian food, from pizza to pasta, from wine to coffee and from fruit to vegetables it all just seems to taste better from Italy!
Italians have had a very close relationship with enjoying fine food throughout history and one look at their ancestry explains why. Italian cuisine has been influenced by the Greeks, Arabs, North Africans and all the other cultures overthrown by the immense Roman Empire.
Most importantly, the famine endured by most Italians during World War II shaped their cuisine for ever, as simple, cheap foods like; pasta, pizza and most of the other classic Italian dishes were borne from hardship alone during this time.
The hardship of war meant that Italians began growing their own Mediterranean herbs and vegetables in their own back gardens and both do particularly well in the Mediterranean region. Vegetables like the artichoke have long been prized by Arab cultures and thus it also features in Italian cuisine. The arrival of the solanums (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers etc) took their cuisine into another dimension and subsequently had an effect on the way that the rest of the world perceives food.
The cultivation of vegetables and Mediterranean herbs has always been a popular hobby for the men in Italy and it seems both a way of spending time without ‘the wife’, keeping her happy and ensuring that they are fed well with fresh vegetables and herbs from the orto (vegetable garden). The freedom to consume healthy quantities of wine while tending their vegetable gardens and discuss ‘male business’ in peace could also be an incentive- but that’s another story!
In any case, tending the vegetable garden and herb garden is an important part of Mediterranean culture. The right to have a piece of land to themselves, without having to donate 50% to the aristocracy is indeed a new right and the Italians have taken full advantage of it.
You do not need to live in a huge villa to create a formal vegetable garden, as a formal. Italian vegetable garden can be just 10 yards across and can cost far less than the standard method of planting expensive roses. Italian vegetable and Mediterranean herb plants/seeds cost cents as opposed to the tens of Euros needed to plant costly shrubs etc. It has to be said that, aside from being easy to install, inexpensive and spectacularly beautiful Italian vegetables and Mediterranean herbs are actually edible!
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