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Garlic is the most pungent member of the onion family. It is an essential ingredient in Italian cooking and as far as Iím concerned, no kitchen should be without it.

The garlic plant grows to a height of about 12 inches, with a bulb made up of 8 to 12 sections or cloves, forming underground. The cloves are well protected by a papery white skin that may be streaked with red or purple. Garlic is believed to be a native of central Asia and is the oldest member of the alliums family. In the Dark Ages, people believed a garland of garlic would ward off evil sprits and the plague. Over the years itís been prescribed for everything from athleteís foot to baldness. In fact, the concentration of organic sulfur compounds in garlic is now recognized to have antibacterial properties, man people today swear it will stave off the common cold. Garlic is grown everywhere, but the largest U.S. supplier is California, with Mexico also supplying the market. Aromatic garlic is used to season meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, breads, marinades, sauces, and pasta Ė just about everything except desserts.

Elephant garlic is big Ė bulbs can reach a pound apiece. It always fetches a high price in stores, but its flavor is rather mild. I prefer the potency of regular garlic Ė itís richer and goes a long way.?


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Choose garlic as you would onions; the bulbs should be fat and very firm with no spongy areas and no green sprouts. Sprouts indicate the bulb have been in storage too long.


Stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, garlic should keep for a month. Avoid refrigeration or plastic wrap, dampness quickly deteriorates the bulbs.


Raw garlic has a pungent flavor that adds depth and zip to salad dressings and marinades. It mellows as itís cooked. Long, slow cooking makes garlic especially mellow and sweet. Leg of lamb is traditionally roasted with slivers of garlic pressed into the flesh. Try surrounding poultry or meats with whole cloves Ė peeled or unpeeled Ė before roasting, or toss the cloves with new potatoes, olive oil, and salt and roast in a covered pan. Roasted garlic cloves nearly liquefy inside, and the paste is delicious spread on toasted Italian bread. Simmer whole, peeled cloves gently in milk until tender; drain. Serve them alongside steaks or chops. Use garlic to make bean or fish dishes richer. My mother made aioli by simmering garlic in olive oil until tender, adding salt, herbs and often crushed hot peppers, and drizzle the mixture over pasta for a simple but satisfying dish.

Other recipes from Produce Pete.


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