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Exploring Garlic: How to Grow and Cook With This Wonderful Herb


Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Learn how to grow and cook with garlic

Learn how to grow and cook with garlic

Are You Hungry?

For just a moment, use your imagination; can you see, smell, and taste these dishes?

Fresh sheets of lasagna pasta combined with the sweet flavors of butternut squash and fennel, the earthy taste of mushrooms, and s pungent Gorgonzola cheese. A a creamy garlic herb sauce is gently drizzled over the top.

Individual ramekins are filled with tender chunks of turkey, baby peas, sweet carrots, soft cubes of potato, and a savory garlic-herb gravy bubbling up through a flaky cream-cheese pastry.

Welcome to My Kitchen

These are just two of the hundreds of recipes I have created for my family. I love to play with contrasting tastes and textures. Mediterranean, Latin, Asian, fusion—all appear on our dinner table. Fish, fowl, beef, pork, and vegetarian share equal status.

The one common thread?


It seems to appear in almost every dish.

But, Once Upon a Time We Were Strangers

There was no garlic in my mother's kitchen.

Mom had a dozen or so dishes in her cooking repertoire, and she prepared them well. I love Mom, but there was no sense of adventure in her cooking, perhaps because cooking was a chore, a necessity, not something "fun."

Fish and seafood were unheard of, beef was ground or a pot roast, the chicken was baked, and seasonings were salt and pepper. Our version of spaghetti with meat sauce was ground beef sauteed with onions and then briefly simmered with two cans of tomato sauce.

My culinary epiphany occurred sometime in the early 1970s when a co-worker invited me to her house for dinner. Teresa and her husband were first-generation Italian-Americans—a large, happy, boisterous family who made this little reddish-blonde German-Irish girl feel right at home.

Teresa prepared spaghetti, but it was nothing like the spaghetti of my childhood. A complexity of flavors amazed and delighted my taste buds. She was happy to share her recipe with me and introduced me to the wonders of tomato paste, fresh basil, red wine, olives, cinnamon, and garlic.

Teresa's spaghetti sauce

Teresa's spaghetti sauce

Teresa's Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

Ingredients for Meatballs

  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. lean ground pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 whole eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper

Ingredients for Italian Gravy

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely minced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (6-oz.) cans tomato paste
  • 36 oz. (4 ½ cups) chicken broth
  • ½ cup sliced black olives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced basil
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions for Meatballs

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine bread crumbs and milk in small mixing bowl. Let this sit for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large mixing bowl combine the ground beef and the ground pork. Stir in the moistened bread crumbs and the remaining meatball ingredients. Combine.
  4. Form the meatballs and place on a lightly greased baking sheet (you want them to be a little larger than a golf ball).
  5. Bake about 20 minutes or until the meat begins to brown and firm up.

Directions for Italian Gravy

  1. Heat a heavy 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
  2. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken broth to the tomato paste and stir until well blended.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients.
  5. Carefully add the meatballs, but not the pan drippings. Treat them gently because they are very fragile. Make sure that all of the meatballs are totally submerged in the “gravy."
  6. Cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours.
  7. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

I Slowly Fell in Love With Garlic

My love for garlic began in Teresa's kitchen, but it was not a whirlwind romance. I was cautious.

The amazing taste of Teresa's meatballs encouraged me to try a bit of garlic in my meatloaf. Next, beef stew, and then a roast chicken.

Ultimately, I fell head-over-heels in love; garlic transitioned from a novelty ingredient to a standard component of my cooking routine.

That's a Lot of Garlic!

How fortunate that garlic is:

  • Available all year round
  • Easy to find
  • Inexpensive

But it is even easier, cheaper, and more rewarding to grow your own.

In My Garden

In mid- to late-October, the nights are cool and Autumn rains provide just the right amount of moisture for the planting of garlic. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Garlic grows easily in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 (see map below).
  • Do not attempt to plant cloves from the grocery store. Most are treated to prevent sprouting, which makes them more difficult to grow and the variety in your store might be unsuitable for the area in which you live. Instead, purchase cloves from a mail order seed company or a local nursery.
  • Break apart cloves from the bulb a few days before planting (this will allow them to dry slightly), but keep the papery husk on each individual clove.
  • Select a sunny spot that has good drainage.
  • Place cloves 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep, with the broad end down and the point facing up).
  • Water deeply once a week if there is no rainfall.
  • If you live in the North where winters are harsh, it is suggested that you mulch heavily with straw. Your garlic will slumber now but reward you in late Summer.
  • Remove the cover of mulch in the Spring after the threat of frost has passed. (Young shoots can't survive in temps below 20°F on their own. Keep them under cover.)
  • Water every 3 to 5 days when the bulbs are forming (mid-May through June).
USDA Hardiness Zone Map

USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Scapes: The Reward Before the Great Harvest

As the garlic plants begin to grow, long green stalks called scapes will emerge and form loops. These tender sprouts can be pulled from the plant and used to make pesto, tossed into a stir-fry, or sauteed to add to cooked pasta.

Garlic (alium) scapes

Garlic (alium) scapes

When and How to Harvest Your Garlic

Garlic bulbs are ready for harvest when their leaves begin to wither and turn yellow or brown. Each clove that you planted in autumn should reward you with an entire head of new garlic. Harvest can begin in late summer (August) and continue through autumn.

Loosen the earth around each garlic bulb with your shovel; be careful that you do not cut into the bulb—garlic bruises easily. Leave the garlic to dry for several days in the sun, or in a well-ventilated space under shelter if rain is forecast.

© 2015 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 29, 2015:

Rachel - Thank you, thank you. Yes, I'm really Linda, but I figure if Ina Garten can be the Barefoot Contessa, I can have an alter-ego as well. So glad your husband liked the sauce. That is a huge compliment.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on May 29, 2015:

Hi Carbdiva, is Linda your name? Well I made your meatball and sauce recipe today and my husband who doesn't like anyone elses meatballs or sauce but mine, loved it. I made it today but am saving it for tomorrow when my some of my family comes over. I only tweaked it a little, I can't eat meatballs without grating cheese and I used 2 teaspoons of garlic powder in the meatballs instead of the garlic and didn't put in the cinnamon in the sauce. But, the rest is just like the recipe. I love that background taste of the wine in the sauce. Thanks again for a great recipe. I pinned it.

Blessings to you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 26, 2015:

Rachel - you are so sweet! I wouldn't mind seeing your recipe for gravy (sauce). I'm sure it is a winner as well. Thank you for your kind words.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on May 26, 2015:

Hi Carb Diva, I have made and eaten meatballs and sauce all my life. I found it interesting that you referred to the sauce as 'gravy'. There are a lot of Italians who do, it depends on what part of Italy they are from. In my family it was spaghetti sauce, although we have more pasta types then spaghetti. Years ago, it was spaghetti or rigatoni. I found you recipe for sauce and meatballs similar to mine but with a few differences. I like to see that and like to try different ways. I will be making this for my family. Thanks for sharing. Oh, by the way, I couldn't cook anything without garlic. lol Voted up. I didn't see stars or I would have given it 5 stars.

Blessings to you.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on May 15, 2015:

Thank you Carb Diva for that link, much appreciated!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 14, 2015:

Suzie - I have not had to limit myself to growing garlic in containers. That's a very good question. I found the following link which might be helpful to you.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on May 14, 2015:

One of my favorite vegetables and would love to try growing. Does it grow in containers as I am in an apartment at present and have a balcony. Lovely recipe here and will give it a go, will be moving to Italy sometime and love Italian food! Thanks for a very informative read!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 04, 2015:

Sushant - Thank you for your advice. Drainage and quality of soil (for example, it is sandy, clay-like, etc.) probably makes a big difference. I know that garlic does not want to have wet toes.

Sushant Banjara from Biratnagar, Nepal on April 04, 2015:

Planting two inches below still might be deep, sometimes the cloves get rotten before being able to grow out of soil, so I believe planting cloves slightly more than 1 inch will be fine

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 03, 2015:

Hi Jackie - Thank you for your comments.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 03, 2015:

I love garlic too and wish I could grow my own. It is inexpensive though and so good for us! Thanks for the wonderful recipe.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 03, 2015:

Thanks Bill. I have been on vacation, and have a bit of catching up to do--namely reading your Hubs of the past 2 weeks. Happy Easter to you as well my friend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 03, 2015:

We had a great crop of garlic last year. Looking forward to more this year. Thanks for the recipe, Linda, and Happy Easter to you and yours.

kamilaben on April 03, 2015:

Thanks for sharing .

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