I have a few favorite flavors: basil, rosemary, hard cheeses and berries of all kinds. But what tops my list is garlic. This amazing plant not only adds zest to almost any dish, it is actually extremely good for you.
And anyone can grow garlic. You basically set the bulbs in the earth and wait.
There are a few things to know, though, if you want the best garlic for your area and the most flavor they can provide.
First, there are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
Hardnecks have a stiff stem in the center that is surrounded by a ring of cloves. Hardnecks are often the hardiest varieties of garlic and are best suited for growing zones 3-6. They love and need a real winter. This type is too rigid to make garlic braids.
Softneck garlic has a flexible stem in the center, is surrounded by layers of cloves and is what you will find in grocery stores. These do best in climates with milder winters and are less cold-hardy, making them best suited in zones 5-9. Softneck garlic can be stored longer than hardneck and has a stronger flavor. This is braiding garlic.
Here in Ohio, we are lucky enough to be able to grow both types. I have found, though, depending upon our winter, one type may thrive better than the other. If we get a steady cold in the 20s and 30s, both types are happy growers. No matter what we endure each year, I have always had a nice yield from my planting.
When you plant, try not to damage the clove when breaking it off the bulb. Use the larger, plump cloves. I have used bulbs bought at the grocery, from local farmers’ markets and from my own garden. All have worked well.
Fall is the time to plant. Do it as close to your first frost date as you can, any time before the ground freezes. Garlic, like its cousins onions and leeks, needs well-drained soil. Raised beds work great. NO CLAY! So, in this area, you may need to augment your plot. Pointy end goes up, flat base at bottom of 2-inch holes. They should be 6-8 inches apart.
Now we wait. If you see sprouts before winter arrives, never fear. They die back and the plant goes into its winter mode to re-sprout in the spring.
The green leaves appear in spring followed by scapes. These are the curling stalks that are found in the center of the leaves. They are edible.
If you do not want to eat the scapes, cut them off to help the garlic grow its bulbs. This is the seed stalk, which takes energy away from the root. If you do leave them on, they will produce tiny bulbs that can be planted. However, it will take a couple of years before you see a yield.
Harvesting the full-sized bulbs happens in mid-summer, depending upon variety. When the bottom two leaves turn brown, it is time to harvest. The hardneck can be pulled with a digging tool underneath. Softnecks will tear off, so dig cautiously around the plant. Dust off dirt, but do not clean with water.
Now, it is time to cure. They need a dry place, preferably dark or at least out of the sun. I use my garage and hang them, but you can also place them in a single layer on a flat surface.
Curing allows garlic to dry for storing. When the skins are dry and crunchy, they can be moved to a storage location. The idea is that no moisture be left because they will rot. This may take several weeks. I often leave my garlic hanging in my garage until winter, and use it from there if needed in the fall.
When visiting California once, my husband and I drove the backroads of Gilroy and marveled at the garlic farms. Gilroy is the garlic capital of the world — so they claim — and if you roll down the window, the aroma is testimony to this.
When the farmers here cure the garlic, they lay them in the California sun right where they were planted. I have tried this method. It works fine for the first few days, allowing moist earth to dry. But with our pop-up summer storms, you need to be on the lookout for weather and, if it is humid, it will not be as effective.
Now that your garlic has cured, you can clean off the dirt and remove the first layers of skin, cut the stems or braid them. If any bulbs are damaged, use them first. The good garlic bulbs will store for more than six months in a cool, dry place.
I know that I said it was simple to plant garlic and then I went into all this detail. I will confess that if I follow my own advice here, I do get the best result. But there have been years when I have neglected my garlic, and they have done just fine.
Of all the items in my garden, garlic is the easiest to grow. No real maintenance. No major pests or diseases. Just yummy goodness waiting to be picked.
Now, go put some wonderful, flavorful garlic in your garden before Jack Frost shows up. You will not regret it.
GARLIC PUMPKIN MASHED POTATOES WITH SPINACH
7 red potatoes (or Yukon Gold variety), scrubbed and chopped
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, to taste
Two handfuls spinach, stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons Earth Balance or butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Paprika, for garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and boil potatoes for 18 to 22 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and place in a very large bowl.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil over low heat in a skillet and sauté garlic for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn it.
Drain and mash potato chunks in the large bowl with a fork. Mix in pumpkin puree, spinach, almond milk, Earth Balance or butter, black pepper and salt.
Best served immediately. The potatoes tend to get a bit watery (from the pumpkin) if they are put in the fridge.
(Recipe from Oh She Glows, adapted from Cake, Batter, Bowl.)
PUMPKIN GARLIC KNOTS
Servings: 12-16 knots
1 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons olive oil (I used an herbed variety)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (I used King Arthur)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Nutritional yeast (optional)
Pour the warm water into a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast. Let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes. Then add agave nectar, olive oil and pumpkin, whisk until smooth.
Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. With your fist, make an impression in the center — a “bowl” that’s big enough to pour your wet ingredients into. Then pour in your wet ingredients.
Start pulling everything together with a spatula. When you can no longer mix, use your hands to start kneading the dough. Keep kneading — and adding more flour as necessary — until you have a ball that’s elastic, but not sticky.
Lightly oil another large bowl and put your dough ball inside it — flipping over once to coat both sides (again, lightly) with oil. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 425 F. Put in a pizza stone (you may use a pan, too, but it works best with a stone).
Divide the dough into two equal pieces. If you’re planning to use the other half the next day, just put it in a large Ziploc bag and store in the fridge. You may also freeze the dough for up to 3 weeks.
To create the garlic knots, just take off sections of dough (about the size of two tablespoons, if that makes sense) and roll them into a snake shape. Then, tie that snake in a knot. Set aside and continue with the rest of the dough.
Once you’ve made all your knots, put them on your stone (or on your pan) and let bake until golden brown on the tops, anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes, or more, depending on how big your knots are.
While you’re waiting, in a large bowl mix together olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper and, if you’re feeling cheesy, Parmesan or nutritional yeast, to taste. There’s really no right or wrong mixture, just what you like. Feel free to taste test.
When the knots are done, dump them into the bowl and mix well to coat. You can crush the knots a bit to let the oil seep in.
Take any extra dough and make a pizza crust.
(Recipe from howsweeteats.com.)
ROASTED GARLIC AND DILL WHITE BEAN DIP
Servings: about 1 cup of dip
Roasted Garlic Ingredients:
This is great as a spread by itself.
6 heads garlic
Roasted Garlic Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Chop off the top portion of the garlic head to reveal cloves. Lightly rub back and forth to remove paper and peel any excess paper off. Drizzle up to a tablespoon of olive oil per garlic bulb cluster and let soak for 10 minutes.
Cover with foil and roast in a baking dish for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
To eat or add to recipe, let cool, then squeeze from the bottom of the garlic head to remove caramelized cloves.
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or about 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans)
3 tablespoons fresh dill
2 bulbs roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil, or more if desired
Combine beans, dill, roasted garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. With the processor running, stream in olive oil and make sure to scrape the sides and bottom a few times.
Serve in a bowl garnished with fresh dill and additional drizzles of olive oil.
GARLIC, ROSEMARY AND CHILI ALMONDS
2-3 teaspoons butter, or a bit less than 1/2 ounce olive oil
7 ounces (or just more than 3/4 cup) almonds
2 big cloves garlic, crushed
1 handful rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Chili, to taste
Melt the butter in a cast-iron or stainless steel skillet, add the almonds and stir until they’re heated through and starting to brown.
Take off the heat and add remaining ingredients, stirring through.
Serve warm straight out of the pan.
(Recipe from thepassionatecook.com.)
3 ounces gin
3-4 ounces Martini & Rossi vermouth
1 splash garlic-stuffed olive juice
2 garlic-stuffed olives
Shake everything but the olives together with ice in a shaker. Strain the mixture into a martini glass. Garnish with the garlic-stuffed olives and serve.
(Recipe from mixthatdrink.com.)
1 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh garlic cloves
Heat oil and garlic in a small saucepan for 1 hour over a very low heat. Don’t let it boil. Let cool in the saucepan and transfer garlic and oil in sterilized jars. It should keep for up to 3 months.
Use it on pizzas, spread on crusty bread or use in any cooking where you want to infuse a garlic flavor. Use the oil for salad dressings and pastas, too. It’s worth the effort, I promise.
(Recipe from gomakeme.com.)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup white onion, finely diced
5 tablespoons (1 head) fresh garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups water
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste
Heat the oil and butter in a medium soup pan on low. When the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook the onion and garlic for 20 minutes until soft but not brown.
Add the flour and stir. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the chicken stock, water, vinegar and salt. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot.
(Recipe adapted from “The Complete Book of 400 Soups.”)
GARLIC MUSHROOM SOUP
20 fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups bread crumbs
Fresh parsley, chopped
10 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash hot sauce
In food processor or by hand, finely chop garlic and 1 pound of mushrooms. Cut remaining mushrooms into thin slices.
In 4-quart saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sauté garlic and all the mushrooms for 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Sauté bread crumbs in remaining olive oil. Return garlic and mushrooms to pan, stir in parsley and sauté for 5 minutes. Add broth. Simmer for 15 minutes, stir frequently. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce.
(Recipe from Country Woman magazine.)
I adapted this recipe from one given to me by college friend, Kathi Spirk, who adapted her recipe from Oprah Winfrey’s cookbook. See what you can adapt to make it your own. Anything with garlic and basil is worth eating. Oh, and it is easily doubled or tripled.
1/2 cup fresh basil
1 clove garlic (2 if you like)
1/4 cup Parmesan (or more to liking)
Pine nuts or walnuts (optional and to liking)
Dash of lemon juice
Place all solid ingredients in a blender or food processor. (More nuts make the pesto less creamy.) Cover with a few teaspoons of olive oil and dash of lemon juice. Puree.
Serve fresh over 8-16 ounces of cooked pasta or place in small plastic containers to store in freezer.