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The other night, I was privileged to be asked to judge the Tomato and Pesto Competition for our local Herb Guild. It was an evening of some merriment and included a few really wonderful tomatoes and some superb pestos. The decision was not an easy one, but a winner for each was chosen and then Bev took the specimens, combined them with some fresh mushrooms, onions and eggplant and turned the whole into a wonderfully aromatic sauce for pasta. We gorged and were in heaven!
Going home that night, I pondered the really simple things that had combined to make the evening's fare spectacular. Tomatoes, fresh from the vine. Basil and garlic combined with other things to make a truly wonderful concoction! Lori told me she grows her own garlic and would never use any other! "There's nothing like it!", she said. Not all of the ladies present grew their own; from what I learned that night, garlic is very particular about where it grows. Well, that was all I needed. A new column was born.
So, this month, we talk about Garlic. Much maligned and misunderstood, nevertheless -- according to Penzey's -- it is probably the most heavily used seasoning in the world. Used in a multitude of cuisine from Chinese to Italian to French and increasingly in North America and beyond, Penzey's avers that the world's finest is grown in California. Gilroy, the California town most famous for garlic worldwide, even has a web page dedicated entirely to its annual Garlic Festival. Check it out at http://www.garlicfest.com.
Garlic has flat grey-green leaves about one inch wide and twelve inches long. The stalks produce small white, mauvish flowers and can reach as much as two feet or more in height. It's a perennial and one of its most common varieties is pink skinned. If you're going to try to grow your own, and I have it on authority that you should, then plant the individual cloves one inch deep and six to eight inches apart. They should be planted in the fall for a good result and they respond well to occasional feeding.
Garlic has a special affinity for most meats, especially lamb and poultry. Add it to your potato dishes -- try boiling and mashing a couple of cloves into your next batch of mashed potatoes -- amaaaazing!