- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Yes, I know I wrote about garlic gardening last summer, but I can’t help myself. Garlic is everything at my house.

When I go home and smell the intoxicating scent of minced garlic slowly cooking in extra-virgin olive oil, the troubles of the day are washed away. And there is nothing to compare with fresh garlic from the garden.

Friends and family are not quite as accepting. So I have learned tricks for making garlic less obvious, including getting the scent of garlic off my fingers. To do this, run your hand across a stainless steel knife under water. (Use the flat side of the knife, not the sharp part, of course.)

I rarely use this tactic, since I’m captivated by the aroma. Garlic is life. Maybe you think I’m overstating. It certainly is perfect for the fall garden, though.

Gardening garlic in cooler climates is as easy as planting fall bulbs. The trick is to plant the right type of garlic in the right spot at the right time.

October is a great month for planting. I was taught to plant during the dark phase of the moon, around the second week of October. The soil should be loose, friable (so that it crumbles in your hand) and filled with organic matter and fat worms that work the earth, fertilizing it at the same time.

It’s best to use garlic plants purchased from a local farmer or from a good online garlic farm. The garlic we buy in the supermarket can be treated with a sprouting inhibitor, and also, in many cases, it is not particularly hardy.

Prepare the soil by digging deep with a garden fork. Poke holes in the earth about every 8 inches in a grid pattern. Separate the heads into cloves, planting one clove in each hole. Plant only the biggest cloves and save the smaller ones for the kitchen cutting board. I like to mulch the whole bed with a thick layer of straw. The garlic will sleep over the winter and sprout with the crocuses.

The greens that form in early spring are a unique treat for cooks. Only pick a few, since they are essential for good growth of the bulbs underneath. They have a milder garlic flavor that’s fresh and green-tasting. Toss them into salads and stir fries, or mince and sprinkle over bruschetta or into any recipe that calls for garlic.

In June, the seed stalk called a “scape” emerges. It’s essential that the scape be removed so that the plant focuses all its energy on producing big bulbs. But this is a good thing for the cook. Those very scapes are a great addition to many dishes because they add garlic flavor without the bite of the mature cloves. My favorite use for scapes is as a substitute for basil in pesto.

Around the second or third week of July, when more than 50 percent of the foliage is brown, it’s time to harvest. It’s better to pick the garlic sooner rather than later for storage purposes. The bulbs can be pulled up by the stem when grown in soft soil. Grab them firmly at soil level and gently lift the bulbs. If the dirt is a little firmer, use a garden fork to loosen the earth around the bulbs.

Brush off the loose soil but don’t rinse the roots with water unless you are planning on using the garlic in the next month. Leave the stalk on the garare planning on using the garlic in the next month. Leave the stalk on the garlic and hang it in a warm dry place to cure for three weeks. When the curing process is finished, trim the roots off the bulbs and cut off the stalks. Store the bulbs in an onion bag inside for the winter. Depending on how the curing process worked, they may last until spring. Never store garlic in oil at room temperature. That’s an invitation for bacterial growth.

Gardeners in warmer areas should try to buy locally grown garlic for planting. Each region plants a little differently, depending upon how hot it gets. So, if ordering from a garlic farm, be sure to tell them where the garlic will be grown.

There is only one rule when cooking garlic: Never let it burn. The smaller the cloves are cut, the closer a cook needs to watch. Never turn your back on minced garlic in a hot pan. It’s usually much better to keep it moving over low heat. Garlic adds something to every dish and mixes well with most meat, fish and vegetables.

Do something good for yourself. Eat garlic and stay healthy, happy and aromatic.

Easy garlic mushroom soup

20 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped (yes, 20)

1½ pounds fresh button mushrooms

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 cups bread crumbs

1 bunch fresh flat Italian parsley, finely chopped

10 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper

Dash hot red pepper sauce

Combine garlic and mushrooms in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute for about 5 minutes, until mushrooms give off liquid. Remove from pan and set aside. Saute bread crumbs in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Return garlic and mushrooms to pan, add parsley and saute for another 5 minutes. Add broth and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot red pepper sauce. Makes about 6 servings.

Garlic scape pesto with pasta

This recipe was adapted from Brandy Stewart, executive chef of Kaya restaurant in Pittsburgh.

20 fresh garlic scapes (about 1½ cups chopped) (see note)

2 cups grated Campo de Montalban, Idiazabal or Parmesan cheese

1½ cups hazelnuts, Brazil nuts or pecans

2 cups safflower oil

½ cup good white wine, optional

Salt and pepper

Water

1 pound pasta (I like linguini)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Roasted, sliced chicken, optional

In a food processor, puree scapes, cheese and nuts, adding safflower oil and then wine, if desired, a little at a time, until pesto is desired thickness. (Pesto can be served in a variety of consistencies, from very thick to rather thin, depending on preference.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well.

Bring water to boil in a large pot, add pasta and cook until al dente. Add pesto to the pasta and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serves with roasted, sliced chicken, if desired. Makes about 4 servings.

Note: A garlic scape is the seed stalk that emerges from planted garlic in the late-spring garden.

Roasted garlic

This is one of my favorite ways to use garlic. When baked with olive oil, the flavor of garlic changes, becoming mild and sweet. I use a clay roaster with a lid specifically made for the task, but a cookie sheet and some foil works fine, too.

1 head (or more) garlic

Olive oil

Place unpeeled head(s) of garlic in oven pan and drizzle with enough olive oil to moisten a little. Put head(s) in preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven, let cool and squeeze roasted garlic out of cloves onto toasted bread or mix into ingredients to use as a topping for bruschetta. Makes 1 or more head(s) roasted garlic.

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