Aglio e Scalogno

Aglio e Scalogno
Aglio e Scalogno: Garlic and Shallots at the Christmas Market in Florence

Friday, January 14, 2011

The 2011 Gardening Season Begins - Let's Talk Garlic!

Though the garden is sleeping and covered in snow where I live, the garlic and shallots are planted and will be ready to push up through their blanket of straw come early spring.  Nothing says "Italian cooking" to me more than garlic!  Garlic serves as the base layer of flavor for so many Italian dishes, whether it's something tomato-based, seafood-related, vegetable-only, a roasted meat... It's hard to imagine making something Italian without having some garlic on-hand. 

That's why, in my garden, I always plant lots and lots of garlic!  It stores well, and it's there whenever I need it all winter long.  I'd like to share some tips on selecting garlic for your garden, along with one of my favorite recipes using this indispensible flavoring. 

Not all garlic is created equal.  First of all, did you know that most garlic that's consumed in America comes from China?  If you're buying your garlic at the regular grocery store and it isn't labeled "local," it's likely been imported from China.  I'd personally rather consume garlic that's grown closer to home and with more oversight regarding pesticides, fertilizers, etc.  So, for the past ten years or so, I've just been growing it in my own backyard. 

Here is my garlic patch as it looks today, buried under straw and snow, in the middle of January.  In this single garlic patch, there are three different types:  a Rocambole, a Marbled Purple Stripe, and a Porcelain. Each type has its own individual characteristics with regard to size, color, & number of cloves per head, flavor (hot vs sweet, nutty, etc.), best use (raw vs. saute'), and how long they will keep after harvest. 

Within each type, there are many varieties or cultivars.  For example, French Rose, Italian Purple, Russian Red, and Spanish Roja are four different varieties of Rocambole garlic.  Rocambole-type garlics in general tend to be delicious raw, but they don't store as well as Porcelains (which many find too hot to eat raw).  And you thought garlic was just garlic!

My favorite garlic mail-order company is Ronniger's, which has now forged with Potato Garden (yes, they sell seed potatoes, too!),  If you're interested in shopping for garlic, check out all the varieties on their website.  Another great source is Seed Savers Exchange,  Most of the growing garlic sold by Seed Savers is Certified Organic, and they have a selection to make your mouth water:  Bogatyr, Chesnok Red, Georgian Fire, Persian Star, Lorz Italian, and more.  Don't the names alone make you want to start a garlic garden? 

The time to choose and order your growing garlic is in early fall for most of the United States.  Garlic must be planted sometime between about mid-September and mid-November, and certainly before the ground freezes.  When you receive your garlic, split the heads apart into cloves and choose the biggest and hardiest-looking cloves to plant.  Spacing and depth requirements are usually provided in the package from the shipper.  Once you have planted your garlic, cover it with a generous layer of weed-free hay or straw to prevent it from freezing over the winter.  To keep my straw from blowing away, I cover it with plastic trays and pin them down with metal stakes or top them with a few heavy rocks. 

When Old Man Winter retreats and warmer days arrive, usually in early March, it will be time to remove the layer of mulch.  I'm always surprised to see that the first green shoots have beaten me to it, and they are already poking up through the straw!  They know when it's time!  By about mid-June, you'll have garlic ready for harvest.  Stay tuned to this blog, because when Spring arrives, I'll be posting pictures of the sprouting garlic, and I'll describe then how to tend and harvest your garlic. 

In the meantime, here is one of my favorite winter recipes using garlic and another winter favorite - kale.  It's more delicious than you think and definitely worth trying!

Kale with Garlic & Herbs


1 to 2 bunches of kale, tough stems removed, and chopped or torn into large pieces

1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 can anchovies
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
fresh rosemary (leaves from about 3 sprigs)

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar


Immerse kale in salted boiling water (in batches, if necessary) and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes until limp but still brightly-colored.  Then submerge immediately in cold water to stop the cooking.  Meanwhile, add next 5 ingredients to a food processor and blend.  Put the oil/herb/garlic mixture into a saute' pan and bring up to temperature.  Add kale and toss to heat the kale through.  Add balsamic vinegar and toss again.  Serve immediately.  Makes a lovely and very healthy side dish. 

Mangia, mangia!

Don't Just Dream It - Do It ! Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!

Don't Just Dream It - Do It !   Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!
L to R: Marybeth, Giuliana (owner/founder) Steve (filmmaker)

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours
Giuliana, on the right, leading a tour in Umbria

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide
Steve taking a self-portrait in Italy

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Italian Club of Salt Lake

If you're in Utah or coming for a visit and are interested in events related to Italian culture, music, or food, check the Italian Club of Salt Lake (ICSL) website for information: .

The ICSL also offers wonderful Italian language classes in a fun and comfortable setting at Raw Bean Cafe', at 611 South West Temple (great access off I-15). I'm the coordinator of the classes as well as a student, and believe me, the classes are great!