Spring Garlic

By on 12 May, 2014 in Cooking, Food, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Every spring, I look forward to seeing the pink & purple garlic heaped in the baskets at the local grocery stores. There’s something extra good about these cloves, with their firm texture and fresh smell. Sometimes you can find the super young garlic at farmers’ markets with the greens still attached – these are fetish items for seasonal cooks, often discussed in the cooking pages of the New York Times. Turns out the stems are called “scapes,” which are delicious when cooked. I’ve never tried it.

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New purple garlic

I love buying heads of this purple spring garlic by the dozen. In our kitchen, there’s rarely such a thing as “too much garlic.” It simmers in olive oil with crushed red pepper before meeting up with onions and cabbage and a touch of vegetable stock to make a silky braised cabbage. It livens up a freezer pizza on darker days, or joins with lemon juice and fresh spinach for a quick-cooked side on a day when there’s time to make a full vegetable plate. The purple garlic seems fresher than its winter cousins – the cloves are tightly bound together, harder to peel, less likely to evince a touch of rot or those bitter green sprouts (take those out before you mince, seriously – they taste awful).

A handful of chopped garlic can make just about anything better. But we’re not all fans. Many of the garlic-averse say it’s too sharp for their tastes. For those folks, a few crushed whole cloves in a soup can add flavor without making something “too garlicky” (whatever that means) – the finer the dice, the stronger the flavor – that’s why some recipes ask you to rub half a garlic clove on bread to make garlic bread or croutons (even though we prefer the stronger dice in our household, maybe with a few dabs of butter and some good cheese). One way to convert just about anyone on the fence about garlic (or to cause extreme happiness in a garlic lover) is to roast the stuff.

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Future yard garlic

Like most vegetables, garlic changes its flavor when roasted. It gets brown and sweet and mellow, suitable for spreading or squeezing into soups or just putting whole cloves onto sandwiches with goat cheese and roasted mushrooms. These firm, reliable heads of purple garlic practically call out for roasting – one of those kitchen operations with a very high ease to enjoyment ratio. You can buy fancy dishes made especially for roasting garlic, but you don’t need those. A nice old Pyrex dish will do, or really any oven safe pan, or just some aluminum foil. There’s two ways to roll here. The first is just to lop off the very top of the head of garlic, discarding any of the excess papery skin around the head. Take a few heads and coat the bottom of your cooking device (pan, foil, whatever) with some olive oil. Cluster the heads inside and drizzle some more oil over them. Close tightly. This is key. For aluminum foil, just wrap around or crimp another piece on top. For other pans, put the lid on. You can also separate the cloves – don’t bother to peel them, once roasted, the skins will slip right off – and toss them in olive oil and roast.

Either way, the rest is the same – Cook at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, then squeeze out the goodness or slip the skins off the individual cloves. You can store them in the fridge for a while, especially with a slick of olive oil, and use them with abandon.

This year, we’re also planting garlic to get our own crop. Gary Weil, down at Red Root Farms, gave us some garlic starters to put in the yard. Hopefully this time next year we’ll be harvesting our own fresh crop out of the garden.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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