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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Sep 04

Pasta with Pesto

Posted on September 4, 2015 at 10:07 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

This blog is not about growing basil. Nor does it discuss the benefits of growing and pressing your own olives (although that might be an interesting topic for the future). And I know too little about growing your own wheat or farina to make flour for pasta. However, garlic is one of the key ingredients for making the best pasta with pesto. And September is the time to plant garlic.

The good news about growing garlic is I have found very little, if anything, preys on this delicacy. It takes up very little growing space in the garden, lives through cold winters, and comes from various regions of the world and grows with various potencies! If that wasn't enough diversity, there are softneck and hardneck varieties to choose from, too.

A softneck garlic, Allium sativum ssp. sativum, is typically the garlic found in the supermarket. The bulb is smaller and more mild than the hardneck garlic varieties. The thin, tightly wrapped, paper-like skins of the softneck garlic help protect the cloves up to nine months or longer in storage after harvest. It is the garlic grown in mild climates like Marin. I found the best way to remove these skins is to lay the clove down on a bread board, turn a knife with a broad blade parallel to the clove, and crush the clove. The skin is then easy to remove.

Decorating wth hardneck garlic
Decorating with hardneck garlic. Softneck garlic can be braided.
The hardneck garlic, Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon, has a center stem known as a scape that comes up through the middle of the blub in spring. Scapes are the rage with gourmet chefs. The cloves from the hardnecks range in flavor from mild to hot and spicy. The cloves are much larger than the softneck varieties and they slip easily out of the paper-like skin. They also tolerate much colder growing conditions, but they do not store as long as the softnecks.

To grow garlic, prepare the soil with rich organic composted matter. Be certain there is good drainage. Carefully separate the cloves from the bulb and plant each clove point side up and 1 inch below the soil level. Space each clove at least 4 inches apart. Leave the paper-like skin on the clove. Both the hardneck and softneck varieties do not like competition, so keep the area free of other plant material including weeds. If you have limited space, you can even grow garlic in an 8-inch planter that is as deep as it is wide. Just be certain there are good drainage holes in the planter, and allow the cloves room to grow by planting the cloves 3 inches away from the side of the planter.

Garlic planted in the autumn will be ready for harvest in June or July. Use a garden fork to gently lift the bulbs from the ground and place them in a warm, dry place for a few weeks before storing in a cool location. Brush away any soil found on the bulb before storing.

While doing research on garlic, I came across some interesting history about this plant. Did you know garlic was given to the pyramid builders for superior strength? Respiratory ailments were cured by eating raw garlic. To this, my mother would attest! In the past, it was used as a diuretic as well as a treatment for rheumatism and intestinal problems. American Indians used it to treat snakebites. And during WWl and WWll, garlic was used as an antiseptic.

While all these cures hold great value, I continue to value garlic most when making pasta with pesto. But scapes have caught my attention now and I found this recipe at epicurious.com that I must try next spring. Will you join me? The rule of thumb is that you never eat garlic unless everyone is eating garlic with you! Perhaps this is why it is said people in Europe who ate garlic daily during the plagues survived. Everyone gave them a wide berth!

Thank you!
A special thanks to all of you who responded to the last two blogs. Some of you had great advice about dealing with rats. Who would have thought that rats would be such a hot topic! Others provided videos of making seedling planters for fall plantings. Check out the responses on our blog, and add your own comments! Our blog readers rock with great ideas.

Have a great weekend and a restful Labor Day.

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