Happy Garlic Month to You
Garlic is such an important ingredient in my cooking I don’t know if I could live without it. I use it for making spaghetti sauce, adding it into salsas, placing it on pizzas and mixing it into vinaigrettes. I chop it, mince it, bake it and never get tired of it.
I know I’m not the only cook who loves garlic, because it’s been an essential ingredient for cooks all over the world for hundreds of years. It’s also used as a remedy for treating ailments from stomachaches to headaches. Garlic is an antibacterial, an antioxidant and a way to keep vampires at bay.
Because April is National Garlic Month, it’s time to celebrate Allium sativum in two ways: by planting it and by eating it.
An Edible Herb
Garlic is an herb that most of us classify as a vegetable. This native from Central Asia is a member of the lily family and is easy to grow because it’s so adaptable.
Select seed garlic in one of two strains, either hardneck or softneck. Hardneck garlic varieties, like Rocambole and Purple Stripe, are known for their flavor. Hardneck varieties produces a flower stalk called a scape, which can also be used in cooking. Hardneck is generally easier to peel and can be stored for 3-6 months.
Most cooks are familiar with softneck varieties, because these are the kind found in grocery stores and often used for braiding. Softneck varieties don’t produce a flower stalk, but are usually more productive than hardneck garlic. They can be stored for up to a year.
Planting and Growing Garlic
Garlic can be planted from fall to early spring, although hardneck varieties prefer to be in the ground during a cold winter.
Garlic grows best in deep, fertile well-drained soil. To plant, separate the cloves from each bulb and place pointy end up 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil and about 3-4 inches apart. Mulch the area and keep the garlic moist.
Garlic will be ready to harvest in summer when the flower stalks of hardneck garlic stand up straight or when the leaves of softneck garlic begin to turn yellow. Allow garlic to dry for several weeks before storing or using in your cooking.
Celebrate with Baked Garlic
Baked garlic is one of my favorite appetizers and this recipe is a perfect way to celebrate National Garlic Day on April 19. If you don’t have any home-grown garlic available, buy several large bulbs with a good number of cloves and no blemishes or soft spots.
Baking garlic slowly in the oven creates an irresistible fragrance in the kitchen, but if you’re pressed for time, garlic can be cooked in just minutes in a microwave oven.
Serve as an appetizer with crackers or fresh crusty bread.
Baked Garlic Recipe
One or two whole garlic bulbs
Extra virgin olive oil
Dried herbs such as oregano or leaf thyme
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Peel the loose, papery skins off the outside of the bulbs.
- Slice about 1/4-inch off the top of each clove.
- Lightly drizzle each clove with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with the herb(s) of your choice.
- Place the bulbs in a garlic baker or wrap in foil and place in a baking dish. (Do not use a garlic baker or wrap in foil if cooking in the microwave.)
- Cover the garlic baker or close the top of the foil bundle.
- Bake for about 45 minutes.
- Remove garlic baker lid or carefully open foil.
- Return to the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes until the garlic is lightly browned.
- Cool slightly before serving.
Squeeze garlic cloves from the skins and spread on bread or crackers.