Thursday, November 6, 2008
Dear Flash, I want to plant garlic this fall. What kind should I plant, and how should I plant it? –Garlic Crusher
A: This is a great time to be thinking about planting garlic. It usually happens in October or early November. You want to think about acquiring seed garlic and figuring out where to plant it.
You have two basic options for getting some seed. You can order it, or you can just buy garlic and plant it. There isn’t any difference between seed garlic and non-seed garlic– other than with seed garlic you know exactly which variety you’re getting.
But if you buy garlic at the farmers market, the farmer might be able to tell you what kind it is. Even if the farmer doesn’t know, you can at least rest assured that whatever variety it is, it will do well in your climate, as the farmer surely grew it locally. Pick out the biggest, burliest, healthiest looking bulbs.
I grow a variety called Romanian Red. The bulbs are big, and there are few cloves– between four and six per bulb– which means that even the smallest bulbs have big cloves, which is nice in the kitchen. Cloves of Romanian Red will peel easier than a prom dress, and have awesome flavor. Romanian Red is a hardneck variety, which means in early June it will send up edible flowers.
As for planting, it’s not a bad idea to choose your patch of ground now and supplement it with manure or compost. You might want to cover it with black plastic to prevent the growth of weeds.
When the autumn leaves start flying, gently break apart your bulbs and plant the cloves, with the peels still on, about an inch deep and six inches apart, with the pointy side up and scabby side down. Cover the whole patch with straw, and forget about it until March, when you should peek under the straw and make sure the shoots are finding their way through.
Dear Flash, You recently mentioned a method of storing surplus eggplant and tomatoes as ratatouille. Can you elaborate? –Ratatouille in the Kitchen
A: What I call ratatouille is a simplified form of the French classic. The name comes from touiller, French for “to stir,” and rata, army slang for “chunky stew.” Rata is a past-tense form of the verb rater, which means to misfire, and it refers to the carnage that a misfired gun can wreak on the shooter. Ratatouille means “stirred chunky brains-blown-out stew.” Yum. Where’s my bib?
Classic ratatouille is a tomato-based stew of eggplant, zucchini, onions and garlic. It can include other veggies too, which must have been the case in the rainbow-colored dish served in the Disney movie Ratatouille.
The ratatouille I make to store is a simpler animal– just tomato, eggplant, onions, garlic, olive oil and spices. Cut the tomatoes in half, the eggplant into rounds, chop the onions and leave the garlic cloves whole. Put the whole business in a baking pan, stir it up with olive oil, bay leaves, and fresh rosemary and bake slowly at 250-300 degrees, stirring occasionally. As it cooks, taste often and adjust the seasonings. Depending on quantity, it can bake for over two hours.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about the proportion of tomato to eggplant. A tomato-heavy mixture will taste more like red sauce, while an eggplant-heavy mixture will taste more like eggplant Parmesan.
The mixture decreases in volume as the water cooks off, leaving a potently flavorful concentrate. To store it, transfer from the oven pan into sterile mason jars, screw on rings and lids and process the jars in a water bath for 10 minutes.
The final product can be used in any number of ways. Spread it on toast, scramble it into eggs, toss it with pasta, bake it on pizza, or just eat it straight out of the jar. It’s a chunky bit of summer you can enjoy all winter long.
Dear Flash, I want to try making kim chi. I was talking to someone who said they heard you let the Napa cabbage sit a little bit in the fridge or the garage first, and let them break down and rot a little bit before making kim chi. True? – Kim Chi Grasshopper
A: I have, attempted my share of kim chi batches. Along the way, I’ve read many recipes, running the gamut from pretty darn easy to insanely complicated. And while there are some traditional techniques that are quite bucolic, such as fermenting your kim chi in a buried ceramic crock, I’ve never heard of this “pre-rotting” technique, which sounds to me like a crock of another sort.
If I squint my mind, I think I can see the logic behind your hot tip, but it sounds like a rotten rumor. It goes something like this: Since kim chi is a fermented cabbage, and fermented is basically the same thing as rotten, or old, then doing a little pre-rotting just gets things rolling. I can find no information to support this theory.
Of all the techniques I’ve tried, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, the one that succeeds without fail, delivering stunning consistency and quality, and just so happens to be the easiest by far, is Noh brand kim chi powder mix. Mixing your own sauce doesn’t have to be rocket science, depending on the recipe– just be forewarned that many recipes require lengthy marination. Whether you want to disassemble your head of Napa (or Chinese) cabbage leaf by leaf and massage your sauce into every fold, as some recipes call for, is up to you.