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

Recipe: Pasta with green garlic and baby spinach

Green garlic stalks, foreground, look similar to scallions, in back, and can be
used in similar ways.  (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

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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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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