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Flavor of early spring: Grab green garlic while it's available

Green garlic stalks, foreground, look similar to scallions, in back, and can be
used in similar ways.  (Photos: Kathy Morrison)
Recipe: Pasta with green garlic and baby spinach

Spring brings so many wonderful vegetables into the farmers markets, but some of them have a short season, so I try to enjoy them while I can.

One of those is green garlic, which is simply garlic harvested before the cloves have fully formed and while the tops are still green. In the market, the stalks look like overachieving scallions, maybe with a slightly more bulbous end, depending on when it was harvested. The stalks can be chopped or minced to be used like scallions, too, but with a creamier garlic flavor. As a bonus, the papery skin hasn't formed on the cloves yet, so there's no peeling required.

The recipe here makes use of that lovely garlic flavor -- much milder than an equivalent amount of regular garlic would be. (You might not be able to scare off any vampires with it, however.) It is very loosely based on a New York Times dish, one of several pasta recipes they've printed that celebrate spring vegetables. There's not a tomato in any of them -- all very green.

This cooks quickly, so it's best to have all the ingredients chopped and ready before you start.

A note about anchovy paste: It's made from fish, sure, but won't add a fishy taste to the pasta. It mellows the other ingredients and lends the dish umami, the savory "fifth flavor" that chefs love. To make this dish vegetarian, substitute 4 dried porcini mushrooms, plumped with a couple tablespoons hot water, and then minced. You might need to add a little extra salt, too.

Pasta with green garlic and baby spinach
Serves 4


Kosher salt
8 ounces thin spaghetti or linguine
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons anchovy paste, or 4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 large or 3 smaller stalks green garlic, trimmed and chopped, including most of the green part
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons flat parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons half and half, heavy cream or vegetable broth
5 ounces baby spinach leaves, about 7 cups
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste, optional


Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, then the pasta, stir, and cook until almost al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta briefly, and return it to the cooking pot off the heat.

Spring flavors blend in this easy pasta dish.
While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan. Stir the anchovy paste into the warm oil, then add the garlic, scallions, parsley and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-high heat for no more than 3 minutes. Add the remaining olive oil. Turn down the heat to medium and gently stir in the half and half, cream or broth. Add some of the cooking water if the mixture is still pretty thick -- the consistency should be closer to sauce than paste.

Pile the spinach leaves on top of the mixture in the pan, then squeeze the lemon juice over the leaves, and grind some black pepper over it all. Stir until the spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta to the pan, stirring, for about 1 minute. Sprinkle Parmesan over all, if using, and some more ground pepper. Serve immediately.


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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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