Garlic ... Other than chocolate and coffee, garlic makes anything taste better! OK, that might not quite be true, but it does convey the love I have for garlic!
This week, I have a yummy garlic soup recipe. OK, before you turn up your nose because it sounds, well, kind of garlicky, give it a try. It’s really a great “comfort food” type soup, and it’s very popular in some parts of the world!
Just the other day, I got an email notice about the new health benefits found in garlic. A new study shows red blood cells process compounds from digested garlic and turn them into hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. (That’s good news for your heart!)
Researchers found just a tiny dose of garlic (equal to about two garlic cloves) can increase our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide, and possibly reduce the risk of heart disease.
There are a few plants other than garlic that contain the H2S compound, but researchers say garlic is the only one commonly used in the human diet.
There are about 300 varieties of garlic grown throughout the world. California grows about 90 percent of the garlic in the United States, which comes in two types: early and late.
Here are some of the more common types of garlic:
Early garlic is usually white in color and harvested in mid-summer. Late garlic is mostly off-white on the outside.
American garlic: white-skinned with a strong flavor.
Chileno garlic: a reddish-colored, sharp tasting garlic grown in Mexico.
Elephant garlic: Just about every grocery store has Elephant garlic. This garlic is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek. Its flavor is very mild, and it’s characterized by its larger heads.
Green garlic: Young garlic before it starts forming cloves. Green garlic looks like a baby leek with a long green top and small white bulb. Its flavor is much more mild than that of mature garlic.
Italian garlic: Italian garlic is mauve in color with a somewhat milder flavor.
If you use a lot of garlic in your cooking, as I do, then maybe you should consider trying to grow some in your garden. I remember my grandmother growing garlic in her garden, and one thing I learned from her about growing it was that you should not grow it near any vegetable you don’t want tasting like garlic, such as onions or tomatoes.
Growing garlic is easy and inexpensive, and just one growing season will produce so much garlic that you’ll have plenty to share with friends and family.
Choose fresh garlic bulbs with large cloves. Avoid garlic that has become soft.
Each clove will sprout into a garlic plant, so keep that in mind when you’re figuring out how many heads to buy. If you have some garlic at home that has sprouted, that’s great to use. Nurseries also offer garlic bulbs for planting. You can also find unusual varieties from sources who sell on the Internet.
Plant garlic cloves in the fall, in any slightly rich soil, in a location that’s partly to mostly sunny, and it will thrive. Once spring arrives, it begins to grow with the first warm days of late winter or early spring. It’s not harmed by frost, freezes, or even snow.
How to grow garlic
Break the cloves from a fresh garlic head. Be careful not to damage the cloves at their base, where they attach to the garlic plate. If the base is damaged, the garlic will not grow. Push each clove into the soil. Point the tips upward and plant the cloves about two inches (five centimeters) deep. The cloves should be spaced about 20 centimeters (eight inches) apart for best growing conditions. Cover with mulch of any type. Fertilize the cloves or top-dress with compost. Fertilize once again in the spring. Newly planted garlic needs to be kept moist to help the roots to develop. Don’t overdo the water, as garlic doesn’t grow well, or may even rot, if sodden during cold months.
Home grown, freshly harvested garlic bulbs are much stronger than those found in stores; however, cooking garlic decreases its flavor making it much milder. Be careful not to sauté too long at too high a temperature, or it becomes bitter.
To bake, place whole, unpeeled bulbs (not cloves) rounded side down in a shallow baking dish, drizzle with oil, cover with foil and bake for one and a half hours at 325 degrees.
Tuscan Bean and Garlic Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
4 cups chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup half and half cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 slices Ciabatta bread
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
In heavy pot, heat butter, olive oil, and shallot; add the shallots and cook until softened. Add the sage, beans, and stock; bring mixture to a simmer. Add the garlic, and simmer about 10 minutes. Carefully puree the soup, one cup at a time, in a blender until smooth. Once all the soup is blended and back in the pan, add the cream and pepper. Place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle the slices of Ciabatta bread with extra-virgin olive oil. Grill the bread until golden brown. Serve the soup with grilled bread.
Kay Bona is a staff writer for the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.