Our plentiful potato and onion harvest

Vegetable Gardening in Cortona

The kids and I have had a busy day in the vegetable garden just recently with Nonno digging up all the potatoes and onions.

I am inspired by how much I am learning from Carlo’s father and the neighbours about the vegetable garden. Growing your own is par for the course here, and there's a wealth of heirloom herbs, vegetables and fruit to choose from. These old, original varieties have incredible flavour.

So we planted our potato and onion crops in early April, watered them once and waited. The plants looked quite dead so I didn't hold high hopes for our crops, and was pleasantly surprised.

It’s hard to imagine the number of potatoes we dug up from the patch of dirt beneath the remains of wilted, dead stalks. What a thrill it was to dig up between 10 and 14 potatoes from each dead plant!! I now know that the way to tell when you potatoes are reading to harvest is when the plant above ground has shriveled up and died!

After 2 hours of back breaking work, we dug up about 800 potatoes. We then pulled out the super sized red onions.

I have learnt so much from Carlo’s dad in the vegetable garden. For example, potatoes, onions and leeks only need to be watered really well on the day that you plant them and then never again. I must mention this certainly applies here in Italy, where the soil is much richer and moister than Western Australian soil. It survives on what rain nature gives it. The potatoes and onions were planted in the beginning of April and we dug them up at the end of July.

Potatoes can be stored in a dark dry place and the onions we have strung up in bunches in the shed.

I have included 2 recipes that you can enjoy, using onions and potatoes.

The first recipe, called Torta di Patata, I learnt years ago in Puglia and I must say is really fantastic, so give it a try!!

The second recipe is a twist on the traditional Panzanella salad, but a great way to use your old bread and the onion and balsamic dressing is just wonderful. The fresh onions from the garden made it so sweet.

I hope you enjoy these recipes

Ciao, Sioban

Torta di Patate Salata

Serves 6 as an entree


  • 1kg potato (Royal Blue)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tblsp Parmesan Cheese (Reggiano if possible)
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 250g cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tblsp bread crumbs
  • 150 g cheddar, grated
  • 80 g thinly sliced ham


In a large pot of water, boil potatoes in their skins until they are cooked, you can check with a skewer. Puree potatoes through a potato ricer into a bowl and add the eggs, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and mix until all ingredients are combined. Taste to check if it is seasoned well and adjust accordingly. Heat a fry pan, add your olive oil and once it is hot add your onions and season with a little salt and pepper. Leave to sweat on a low heat for about 5 minutes and then add in the cherry tomatoes and leave to cook for another 5 minutes, just until they start to soften. Set aside to cool.  

Grease a cake tin with some real ease and sprinkle the base with ½ the breadcrumbs.  Then spread half of the potato mix as your first layer and then place your ham on top of the potato and then the cherry tomatoes and the cheddar.  Using the rest of the potato mix, cover the filling to make the top layer and then sprinkle the rest of the bread crumbs on top.

Bake in an oven at 170 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Bread and Crispy Prosciutto Salad with Onion and Balsamic Dressing

Serves 6 people


  • 1 eggplant, sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • table salt
  • olive oil
  • 6 slices wood fired or sourdough bread
  • 12 thin slices prosciutto
  • 18 kalamata olives
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 15 sprigs of Italian parsley leaves, picked and washed
  • sea salt and pepper
  • onion dressing



Sprinkle eggplant with table salt on both sides and allow to stand for 30 minutes.  Wash well and dry with a clean tea towel.  Shallow fry eggplant in a pan with olive oil until golden brown on both sides.  Drain on paper towel and leave to cool, and then roughly chop. Tear bread into bite sized pieces and oven toast until golden brown. Cook prosciutto slices until crispy either in the oven or under a grill. Place bread, olives, tomatoes, prosciutto, eggplant and parsley in a large bowl and mix well with onion dressing. Taste to check seasoning and adjust as required with sea salt and pepper.

Onion Dressing    

200 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sized onion, finely diced
50 ml balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper


Warm the olive oil in a heavy based saucepan over a low to medium heat and add onion. Add salt and pepper and sweat for 20 minutes, being careful not to brown onions.  If they start to take colour, turn down the heat and continue to cook until the onion is very soft. Remove from heat and add vinegar and allow onions to soak up vinegar.