July 7, 2010

Homemade Ricotta and Tips for Growing Garlic

It’s that time of year again- not much time for writing about gardening and just enough time to delight in pinching out tomato side-shoots, taking a stroll past the peas - nibbling as we go, and for checking on the general progress of what looks to be a generous harvest to come.

Today was the first day where we’ve had enough crops come in so as to cover the kitchen table, and enough to make a salad worthy of a meal. Broad beans, 2 types of lettuce (marvel of the four seasons and buttercrunch), a spring mix of sorts, arugula (rocket), coriander, peas, our entire first crop of garlic (what a sight!), and enough basil to make our first batch of Genovese basil pesto!

On top of that, today I finally tried making ricotta from scratch. Well, not completely from scratch of course, but enough to report that it’s an incredibly simple process. So easy that, by the end, I was wishing I’d made it every week since I first read about how to make it on Chocolate & Zucchini. As it says on C&Z, the ricotta does taste a lot like the milk it comes from…and my ricotta was okay, but not quite as sweet as I’d hoped for. My guess is that the sweetness, despite using organic milk, can be best achieved by using milk that’s very fresh off the farm and ideally unpasteurized, for taste and for health benefits.

Unfortunately in Canada, at least in BC, it’s impossible to buy unpasteurized milk, so my advice is to make friends with your local dairy farmer and see where that leads you. I’d still try making it at home, at least once, just to see how easy it can be. Who knows, perhaps one day you'll be in desperate need of ricotta and the store will have run out. Well, now you know how to make it, and ricotta only requires whole milk (homogenised milk), buttermilk, and cheesecloth (muslin).


Garlic- my new love!
We harvested our first crop of garlic today- 24 enormous, beautiful bulbs. From this day on, I will always grow garlic whenever possible. The smell of it straight from the garden is reminiscent of the best markets, (sorry friends, but I won’t be spending $2 per bulb any more), and of the braided strands (plaits) of garlic hanging from market stalls in Provence.

On the subject of garlic braiding and fresh garden produce, I'd like to recommend an excellent book. It's one that every serious beginner gardener should own, called The Zero-Mile Diet by Carolyn Herriot. Although based on Vancouver Island where the climate can be quite different from the dry interior of BC, all the essential information is there. How to make an excellent compost, how to grow many types of vegetables in your home garden, including some more interesting varieties, how to save seeds, and most importantly…how to braid garlic (hee hee)! Exciting times lie ahead on the garlic front. In the meantime, until I learn how to braid garlic properly…my house will continue to smell of garlic while it’s drying! I love garlic, but that is honestly quite the incentive.

Top tips for growing garlic - as passed on by my wonderful garlic vendor at the farmers' market- and a few tips from me:
-         -  Buy organic garlic seed cloves from your local farmer’s market

-         - Plant garlic in the fall (some books recommend planting garlic in the spring but I haven't had very much success with this, and the garlic bulbs are often small). The garlic’s roots will start to form throughout the winter, and by the time spring arrives, you’re off to the races, so to speak!

-         - The seed garlic cloves can have a hard 'nub' at the bottom where the clove separates from the bulb. If it looks hollow then it’s ready for planting, but if rounded, then use the tip of a knife to lever out the ‘nub’. This will allow the roots to form more freely.

-        -  In early summer/late spring (usually June) garlic will produce green shoots from the stems called garlic ‘scapes’. The scapes feed off the bulbs, so it’s best to remove them (great for use in salads or in an omelette etc) to allow the garlic to grow bigger.

-         - Harvest your garlic in July when 2/3rds of the plant has turned yellow (at this point the stem might start to angle/lean over slightly as well).

I hope this helps to give you a good start in growing your own garlic this autumn, and that the intro to ricotta makes cheese-making a slightly less mystifying process, not to mention more accessible.

Happy gardening!  

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