When Tony and Assunta Battaglia stood behind a row of waist high broad bean plants in their organic plot she said, "It feels as though we are getting married again." The rest of us were standing watching and The Canberra Times' photographer Elesa Kurtz asked me to steady a piece of her equipment as a chilly wind was gusting from the west.
Tony was holding back the billowing bird netting which had earlier been described as "an Arabian tent" but was now like a bridal veil and Assunta was holding a posy of just harvested edible leaves.
The Battaglias came to Canberra from Melbourne in 2015. They had lived in many parts of Australia but decided on Canberra because it is an easy and beautiful place to live, especially since Tony was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He enjoys residing in Greenway and walking around Lake Tuggeranong regularly. Both their families are from Italy but Tony is Australian, having been born in Sydney while Assunta was born in Italy and has been living in Australia since the couple was married in 1988.
Living in a one-bedroom apartment they felt the need for more space. Also they both grew up with their parents growing vegetables. Their friends, Matt and Leana, who also live in the apartment building, had an organic plot at Canberra Organic Growers Society garden in Kambah and introduced the Battaglias to the site and the convenor Shirley Bolton (Kitchen Garden, August 11). They became members of COGS 18 months ago.
Tony and Assunta love that they can grow their own vegetables on their own plot of land, with the support of the community garden infrastructure. This is now part of Tony's Parkinson's disease therapy. As he says, "All around, what a great idea."
The location is not far from busy Drakeford Drive but the setting feels quite rural. This area was farmed as part of Kambah Station from 1875 to 1970. There is a rustic woolshed and the entry gate to the gardens is beside a green Nissen Hut, a former hay-shed.
To improve the soil in their large plot, the Battaglias added mushroom compost, cow and chicken manure. In one corner they have a smallish black compost container purchased from Bunnings and collect all their food scraps from home and from time to time add paper from their paper shredder.
Winter plantings are splendid. They include broccoli, snow peas, arugula (rocket) garlic, spinach, radish, radicchio, Asian greens, Italian parsley and fennel. During our visit, Assunta harvested spinach and Italian parsley which they used for an omelette. The other greens and vegetables they picked were used in a minestrone and in a salad. Most of their plants are raised from seeds from Canberra Seed Savers group but Tony also has some plants from a Kambah neighbour who lives near the community garden.
For the Open Gardens Canberra day last year, when 500 people came to the gardens, Tony printed sheets of elegant black and white vegetables which were given to children to colour in. They included artichokes, carrots, corn and tomato.
Tony asked me what was my favourite Italian food, an interesting question. He likes pizza and pasta with a variety of sauces, in summer tomato, garlic and fresh basil from their garden plot. His favourite Australian food is a Canberra Brodburger.
The Battaglias buy Barilla dried pasta because it is time consuming to make pasta considering the amount they consume and how often. Also rigatoni, a preference, cannot be made by hand.
Preferring pasta al dente, it is easier to achieve with the bought pasta, especially Barilla because it has a greater tolerance to being over cooked.
Assunta has shared the main recipe she makes using their garden produce. She does not measure amounts so you will have to free range and choose quantities to suit your tastes.
Italian style ratatouille
vegetables - eggplants, zucchini, squash, spinach, silver beet recommended
1 onion or cloves of garlic
tomato paste and chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned) (or tomato passata)
freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
Wash and chop a variety of vegetables. Chop onion and/or gariic and saute in olive oil with sea salt. Add chopped vegetables and cook for a few minutes. Add fennel seeds (also grown in their garden) and continue cooking for a few more minutes then add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes or tomato passata, fresh parsley (fresh chilli is optional). Season to taste.
Serve with your favourite pasta, penne or rigatoni their preferences.
And you must not forget a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese. Buon Appetito!