For the garden: Italian Seed and Tool
New to me: Italian Seed and Tool for Italian heirloom vegetable seeds, including the GEO line of certified organic seed. The seeds are from the Bavicchi company, which has been in the business since 1896. That's more than 100 years of experience.
Here in Southern California, it's not too late to plant from seed. Perusing the catalog online, I found seeds for agretti (also known as saltwort and roscana) and artichoke violetta Chioggia (a nearly spineless purple artichoke with deep purple coloring and a somewhat pointed shape) -- which can be eaten raw, dipped in extra virgin olive oil.
Among the bush beans, I came across my favorite, the borlotti "Lingua di Fuoco" ("Tongue of Fire") with mottled red pods up to 8 inches long. (It comes in an organic version as well.) The company has early Romano flat beans and the beautiful Supernano Giallo, a yellow Romano bean. If you love those big white Coco Bianco beans, you can find the seeds for that too.
In the chicory category, I gravitate toward Chicory Da Taglio Bionda Foglie, "an Italian chicory with broad, rounded-straight-growing leaves, tender, light green, which send new shoots quickly after being cut." And the pale green, wavy Grumolo, which forms a ball-like head lettuce, or the light green tightly headed Chicory Mantovano "with wonderful flavor."
And I'm only to "C" in the alphabet. You can see how easy it would be to buy more seeds than would ever fit in the garden, at least in one season. I'll just check the broccoli rabe category, with seven different varieties and six types of fennel, including wild fennel.
There's also an arugula I've never seen before, called "wild olive leaf": "Rarely seen here in the U.S. this form of wild arugula is terrific as an accent for lettuce and other salads. Typical of the wild arugulas, it has a distinctive, more intense flavor than the cultivated types. The foliage has a beautiful light green color and smoother shape similar to an olive leaf."
Ever heard of Stridolo or Sclopit? I hadn't either. "Here's a unique green rarely seen here in the U.S., sometimes known as silene or bladder campion. [bladder campion?] Used for flavoring salads, adding to omelets and soups, and of course our favorite, risotto. It can also be cooked like spinach. A wonderful addition to any garden or a farmers market offering," reads the catalog copy. This I have got to try too.
And so it goes.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photo: Bruno Bavicchi and the first seed store in Perugia, Italy, around 1930. Credit: Italian Seed and Tool Company