There are more than 20 varieties of garlic, but the most common are strong, white-skinned American garlic and the milder,
purple-streaked Italian and Mexican types. Elephant garlic, so called because each bulb is about four times the size of American
or Mexican varieties, is also a common type but is technically in the onion family. It's available year-round. The other types
can be purchased loose or packed two to a box. To select the freshest, most flavorful garlic, look for a dry, solid bulb that
is plump, compact, and heavy. Resist the urge to buy peeled or chopped garlic; the flavors are harsher and stronger and will
make your pesto taste more like pesticide. Plus, the jars will make a refrigerator reek.
Keep garlic in a cool, dark spot. The refrigerator is fine, but the freezer isn't; it will ruin the texture and turn the flavor
from aromatic to acrid. Stored properly, garlic bulbs can last up to eight weeks. Garlic that sprouts can still be used; just
remove the bitter green shoots.
The easiest way to peel a garlic clove is to place it under the flat side of a broad, heavy knife and bang it with your fist.
The papery skin will slip right off. There is also an entire shelf of tools at the gourmet store devoted to peeling and preparing
the clove, and it's worthwhile to check out three of them. The first, a garlic press, can eliminate the peeling step, although
you won't get as much pulp as when you press peeled cloves. When you need whole, peeled garlic cloves, try a rubber cannoli.
Drop a clove in one end, rub the tube on the countertop, and a perfectly stripped clove slides out the other side. (A rubber
jar opener works, too.) Another handy tool to have in the utensil drawer is a garlic slicer. Like a mini mandoline, it creates
wispy thin slices of garlic, which, when sauteed in olive oil, make a delicious garnish on vegetables and in salads.