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Exploring Garlic: Grow, Cook With, and Love This Wonderful Herb
Are You Hungry?
Fresh sheets of lasagna pasta combined with the sweet flavors of butternut squash, fennel , earthy mushrooms, and savory Gorgonzola, then wrapped in a creamy garlic herb sauce.
Individual ramekins filled with tender chunks of turkey, baby peas, sweet carrots, soft cubes of potato, and a savory garlic-herb gravy bubbling up through flaky cream-cheese pastry.
Welcome to My Kitchen
These are just two of the recipes I have created for my family. I love to play with contrasting tastes and textures. Mediterranean, Latin, Asian, fusion--all appear on our dinner table. Fish, fowl, beef, pork, and vegetarian all share equal status.
The one common thread?
It seems to appear in every dish.
But, Once Upon a Time...
There was no garlic.
My mother had a dozen or so dishes in her cooking repertoire, and she prepared them well. I love Mom, but there was no sense of adventure in her cooking, perhaps because cooking was a chore, a necessity, not something "fun".
Fish and seafood were unheard of, beef was ground or a pot roast, chicken was baked, and seasonings were salt and pepper. Our version of spaghetti with meat sauce was ground beef sauteed with onions and then briefly simmered with two cans of tomato sauce.
But One Day...
My culinary epiphany occurred sometime in the early 1970s when a co-worker invited me to her house for dinner. Teresa and her husband were 1st generation Italian-Americans--a large, happy, boisterous family who made this little reddish-blonde German-Irish girl feel right at home.
Teresa prepared spaghetti, but it was nothing life the spaghetti of my childhood. A complexity of flavors amazed and delighted my taste buds. She was happy to share her recipe with me and introduced me to the wonders of tomato paste, fresh basil, red wine, olives, cinnamon, and garlic.
Teresa's Spaghetti Sauce
Ingredients for Meatballs
- 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 lbs. lean ground beef
- 1 lb. lean ground pork
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 whole eggs, beaten
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
Ingredients for Italian Gravy
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 6-oz. cans tomato paste
- 36 oz. (4 ½ cups) chicken broth
- ½ cup sliced black olives
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced basil
- 2 whole bay leaves
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
Directions for Meatballs
- Preheat oven to 400 degees F.
- Combine bread crumbs and milk in small mixing bowl. Let sit 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the ground beef and the ground pork. Stir in the moistened bread crumbs and the remaining meatball ingredients. Combine.
- Form the meatballs and place on a lightly-greased baking sheet (you want them to be a little larger than a golf ball).
- Bake about 20 minutes or until the meat begins to brown and firm up.
Directions for Italian Gravy
- Heat a heavy 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
- Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth to the tomato paste and stir until well blended.
- Add the remaining ingredients.
- Carefully add the meatballs, but not the pan drippings. Treat them gently because they are very fragile. Make sure that all of the meatballs are totally submerged in the “gravy”.
- Cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours.
- Remove the bay leaves before serving.
My love for garlic began in Teresa's kitchen, but it was not a whirlwind romance. I was cautious.
The amazing taste of Teresa's meatballs encouraged me to try a bit of garlic in my meatloaf. Next, beef stew, and then a roast chicken.
Yes, I was head-over-heals in love; soon garlic transitioned from novelty ingredient to standard component of my cooking routine.
That's a Lot of Garlic!
How fortunate that garlic is
- available all year
- easy to find, and
But it is even easier, cheaper, and more rewarding to grow your own.
In My Garden
In mid- to late-October, the nights are cool and Autumn rains provide just the right amount of moisture for the planting of garlic. Here are the steps to follow:
- Garlic grows easily in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 (see map below).
- Do not attempt to plant cloves from the grocery store. Most are treated to prevent sprouting, which makes them more difficult to grow and the variety in your store might be unsuitable for the area in which you live. Instead, purchase cloves from a mail order seed company or a local nursery.
- Break apart cloves from the bulb a few days before planting (this will allow them to dry slightly), but keep the papery husk on each individual clove.
- Select a sunny spot that has good drainage.
- Place cloves 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep, with the broad end down and the point facing up).
- Water deeply once a week if there is no rainfall.
- If you live in the North where winters are harsh, it is suggested that you mulch heavily with straw. Your garlic will slumber now but reward you in late Summer.
- Remove the cover of mulch in the Spring after the threat of frost has passed. (Young shoots can't survive in temps below 20°F on their own. Keep them under cover.)
- Water every 3 to 5 days when the bulbs are forming (mid-May through June).
And Then There is a Reward Even Before the Great Harvest
As the garlic plants begin to grow, long green stalks called scapes will emerge and form loops.
These tender sprouts can be pulled from the plant and used to make pesto, tossed into a stir-fry, or sauteed to add to cooked pasta.
All About Scapes
When and How to Harvest Your Garlic
Garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested when their leaves begin to wither and turn yellow or brown. Each clove that you planted in Autumn should reward you with an entire head of new garlic. Harvest can begin in late Summer (August), and continue through Autumn.
Loosen the earth around each garlic bulb with your shovel; be careful that you do not cut into the bulb--garlic bruises easily.
Leave the garlic to dry for several days in the sun, or in a well-ventilated space under shelter if rain is forecast.
Treat garlic cloves gently and they will respond with their sweet side. Chop, mince, or pulverize and they will bite.
(The more you damage garlic's cell walls, the more sulfide-transforming enzymes you release--and with them the pungent garlic flavor).
© 2015 Linda Lum