Surprisingly, from the first unqualified planning of my future crops until the steady intake of our daily vegetable provision, barely five months have elapsed. During this time I have made more U-turns than Simon our local plumber and re-started more seedlings than you could shake a catalogue at. In my more grandiose moments I tend to regard this process as agricultural flexibility coupled with a naturally responsive outlook. On the other hand, members of the family remind me that “I didn’t listen to enough Gardener’s Question Time when I was told to”, and that stubbornness “doesn’t butter parsnips”. However, upon reviewing my soil stained diary entries over the entire period, I have tended to create more successes than predicted disasters, so with only a third of my growing year under my belt one can feel a little more confident. “Pride before the fall” is the usual witty chorus down at the pub.

One occurrence was always going to disguise my occasional mistakes and get me out of trouble, and that was the slow influence of Italian cuisine upon our mealtimes. Unlike the restaurant dishes of classical France or the time-perfect, stir-frying of Chinese ingredients, rural Italian cooking can be a little more forgiving in a domestic kitchen. Only one issue pervades Italian culinary philosophy, be it in Lombardy to the north or Sicily at its southernmost end, and that is the freshness of every ingredient. There is no quarter given on this point and no mercy shown. From former Dukedoms to rustic allotments, the provision of each individual part of an Italian meal have traditionally required fresh, unprocessed, local ingredients. With vegetables, salad and the occasional supplement of early fruit, it would be sensitive cooking rather than a convenient microwave that was needed when I approached this section of the World’s cuisines. Listening to the demands of a vegetable garden, is important, understanding the requirements of its produce is paramount, certainly when one is eager to conquer the fundamentals of Italian food. The history of Italian cooking, even as recently as the twentieth century, is dependent on where you live and who taught you. In the immediate past you would be hard pressed to locate a cookery book in an Italian village, you may well find a tattered file of scribbled notes by mothers and former grandmothers, but an encyclopaedic guide by Hugh, Jamie or Gordon would be unheard of. Mothers, even fathers, would cook as their parents did and the likelihood is that they would visit the same daily or weekly markets as their forebears, seeking out seasonal produce with which to construct the evening repast. Food is preserved solely for the sake of logistical distribution, not taste. The flavour spectrum of Italian cooking is governed by the commonsense way of preparing and cooking the simple bounty from your eagle-eyed market selection. Italians do not read the recipe book or watch the television then spend time tracking down individual ingredients, they visit the market knowing full well what is in season, then select the best and work out how to cook it later in the day. Some married friends of mine in Bologna explained this phenomena on one visit when they said that the average Italian family, both male and female, would begin to think about their evening meal the moment they had finished breakfast. It is this all consuming joy and expectation that can so easily be transferred from my vegetable beds to my table, even on an overcast day in north Norfolk. Food cooked anywhere in the world with an authentic Italian accent, is instantly recognisable. Such cuisine has no truck with fusion, cross cultural or molecular gastronomy. It is abhorrent to the average Italian diner, that a cooking style can simply be rootless, fashionable or fundamentally inconsequential, it must at all times communicate a distinct sense of place and a clear sense of identity. These are traits that are frequently welcomed and increasingly valued on our shores at last, nowhere more so than Norfolk itself.

Italian food has hundreds of potential ingredients growing at any time of the year, but presently our household has not tired of the first easy combinations so clearly illustrated in the green, red and white of the Italian flag: Basil, Tomatoes and Bread.

Historically the commercial realities of an essential rural economy divided the country into bread, pasta and rice eating diners. As two out of three were commonly constructed at home, this was my starting point. Pasta, pastry and pasties all share the same initial four letters from their early Latin construction, meaning dough. Dough as a basic foodstuff governs so many dishes around the world, but an Italian kitchen would opt for sourdough above all others. I too maintain a sourdough starter in our fridge and unlike so many kitchen manoeuvres I have still managed to nurture it, producing a loaf every other day. Although mine began its life some years ago in a northern French bakery, the principal of handing down and preserving its continuance suits our outlook perfectly. That most painting, sculpture, music, literature and even the spoken word, does in some way outlive its authors by remaining tangible to us all, so sourdough continues without any perceptible signs of ageing. Who knows when mine was begun and by whom. Similarly in the bodegas of Jerez, in southern Spain, small volumes of Sherry, with its mystical Solera system of fractional blending, are reported to go back to days before the Armada was even built. I was moved some years ago, whilst on a trip to four of the Trappist breweries in Belgium, when told that many of the cultured yeasts they used, were sent to Britain to keep them away from the destructive and marauding Germans during the Second World War. That these live yeasts survived, grew and were returned almost as they had left, when so many citizens did not, struck me as quietly poignant. So it is in Italy, as well as some parts of France, that a small daily loaf can command so much historical resonance. To be put to suitable use is a welcome obligation not a chore, so it is that heredity is core to Italian cuisine. For Italians the term Brushetta is as one with such a culture. As a starting point one must remember that Brushetta was perhaps the beginning of garlic bread, but bears no relationship whatsoever to the frozen pap available in many supermarkets today. Sourdough bread is sliced and grilled, never toasted as this dries it out, it is then rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil rather than butter. Although at this simple juncture it is a far better appetizer than a million garage sandwiches – from here on in, seasonality lends its invaluable help and any allotment produce would cry out to join the party. Your slice can be topped with steamed baby beans and goats cheese, asparagus with sliced ham, cooked chard with slivers of Parmesan, roast courgette and chilli, mushrooms and rocket leaves, thinly sliced fennel with herbs, cherry tomatoes with basil, or crab meat with lemon, mizuma leaves and fennel seeds. The list is virtually endless falling somewhere between a casual sandwich and a formal main course made on the spot, in your garden, and with a glass of chilled white, Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont to hand, life can feel pretty Italian – between the occasional NR11 cloudburst that is.

One step up has become a weekly if not daily favourite, whenever more than one of us is in, and blight hasn’t edged its plague-like migration any further across our defenceless plants. As a wine man I am all too aware of the necessity of Bordeaux mixture in most vineyards of France. This grape saving juice, made from lime and copper sulphate and first recorded in the mid 19th Century is much used over here now for a number of reasons, principally to keep hold of one’s precious tomatoes. It was a little cavalier of me to extol the virtues of non-spraying whilst trying to grow a range of delectable Mediterranean types outdoors. When a plant starts to reach maturity and its fruit reveals itself accordingly, my heart sours, quietly of course as the neighbours still watch my every move and I don’t want to appear soft. When a biblical plague decimates some of my harvest, they keep their heads down as the fury is indescribable and the language unprintable. Gardening as a relaxing pastime – forget it! When another clutch of unaffected bounty reaches fruition, I am out there with secateurs drawn and bowl in hand, desperate to retrieve them before the allotment equivalent of the Grim Reaper barges ahead of me in the queue. Once harvested this assorted collection of purples, reds and yellows with sizes ranging from playground marbles to small tennis balls, I relax and the stage is set. Once chopped their hues intensify with egg yolk orange and blood red interiors adding to the already dazzling skin colours. In terms of an exciting and sunshine filled colour spectrum, I know no culinary equal. With flowering oregano, purple and green basil, freshly chopped chillis mingled with garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, I can think of nothing better to create a stylish and healthy lunchtime break: al fresco. Once again our sourdough slices add to the treat, all for less than a pound a head and all grown in less than a square metre. Additionally, as any Italian will tell you, if a dish placed on top of bread tastes good, then the same ingredients perching upon a pasta dish will be just as appropriate and just as delicious. Crab (and we do have some particularly good ones nearby) mixed with extra virgin oil, home grown chillis, basil and finely sliced courgette placed cold on top of freshly boiled spaghetti, is also rarely beaten whether it’s here or in a pizzeria in Milan.

If we weren’t full enough, and having only scratched the surface with the Antipasti and Primi courses, the wealth of vegetarian dishes from the northwest, herb and cabbage soups from the Venetian region, dozens of simply roasted vegetables and oil tossed brassicas from Emilia Romana, has caught me napping this week. I will clearly have to return to some of the more rustic, fulsome and; dare I say, Autumnal Italian dishes next time. I will also report on some of the more exciting Italians wines that marry so seamlessly with their respective regional cuisines including a classic pairing we tried with Barolo (the wine of Kings) and Cavalo Rosso con Mele (the food of poor vineyard workers), one a majestic red wine, the other a braised dish of our Bramley apples, white onions and our sweet red cabbages. Italy has historically been at the forefront of showing that such rural simplicity and historic culture can co-exist – even if it’s only at a modest dining table between our raised beds.

If you want to get all Italian as the seasons change, then Marcella Hazan and Claudia Roden are both enormously helpful earth mothers, whilst not forgetting the River Café cookbooks or our careworn earth father; Antonio Carlucci.

For details of any of the dishes or vegetable specialities go to