In Defense of Garlic Breath
BY TARYN HUBBARD Garlic is in my roots. My Italian Nana made sure of it and put it in everything. My sister and I even joked once that her shampoo and soap were made with it, since the scent seems to permeate the walls of her house. Almost 70 now, she doesn’t look a day over 50, and I can’t help assume it has something to do with her whole-garlic-bulb gravy (that’s Italian for sauce).
So that pungent bulb has always been okay by me, even more so ever since I began to farm and realized what a forgiving, rewarding crop it is. Plant cloves in the late fall, blanket them with a layer of straw mulch, and be surprised by the green sprouts that seem to always appear on the grayest day of spring.
By the end of July, they’re usually ready to go in our area. A few weeks before harvest, the green sprouts will have grown the plant’s flower, or scape, which, like most plants, you’ll want to clip off to help the plant (or here, bulbs) grow stronger; it’s also a bonus edible, like zucchini blossoms. Once harvested, fresh garlic has a two-to-three week window when the flavor is most subtle, and the bulbs, most delicate, even soft to the bite. Beyond then, the season’s collection must be cured, so it’s hung like furry bats on barn rafters (or braided in a dry, well-drafted pantry) to ensure both a good punchy flavor and a storage-safe product for market days and gravy-making to come.
In my opinion, garlic makes most things better—alongside a bit of hot oil and a few slivers of onion—but when I really want a dish that no one can deny has garlic, I look to Nana. Last Christmas Eve, she served a garlic-walnut gravy over linguine, and after I devoured it, I asked her to scribble down the recipe.
Nana’s Garlic and Walnut Linguine
- At least 5 cloves garlic, minced. (Don’t be shy. You’re welcome to try more.)
- ¾ cup chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 12 oz whole wheat linguine
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (loosely packed), or 1 tsp dry basil
- Reserved pasta water, as needed
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and walnuts. Cook, stirring frequently, until walnuts are lightly toasted (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente (meaning, a nice bite, “to the tooth;” no flimsy noodles), and drain, reserving some starchy pasta water. Add hot pasta to the garlic-walnut mixture, along with parsley, salt, Parmesan, and basil. Toss together and add reserved pasta water if the dish is too dry. Serve immediately, with bread and garlic oil or a salad of mixed greens.
Note: You may substitute arugula, chopped chard, blanched broccoli raab, or another flavorful green for the parsley, but don’t add too much or you’ll have to add more garlic.
Taryn Hubbard interns at West Haven Farm in Ithaca, where she also cooks, bakes and preserves local food, tends to her community garden plot and plays with her cat, Acorn.