Early garlic treasures: a formal invitation to the dance
We recently launched a seasonal cooking feature called the Virtual veg of the month club. The idea is to pick a seasonal vegetable treat to feature and to have our readers submit their photos/recipes so we can round them up and share a rich resource for everyone’s inspiration. The asparagus feature turned out beautifully and you should check it out if you haven’t seen it already. Our second Veg of the month club star is garlic: but since its so early in the year we’re not talking about the full headstrong bulbs we all know, and love, so well: instead here is what we want to show off in May.
We’re talking about garlic’s younger sibling: green or spring garlic. This plant (pictured above) is simply the young version of a plant feared by vampires everywhere. Traditionally farmers thinned their fields to allow more space for their crop to mature and brought the spring garlic to market as a secondary crop – though now its growing popularity has given spring garlic its own deliberate place in the field. In its immature form the plant has a much milder flavor – it reminds me of a garlic flavored onion, and you can use it in copious quantities without fear: chop the entire plant right up to the green leaves and toss into salads and salad dressings, omelets, sauces. You could try braising and caramelising the entire plant and I bet that would be really delicious. I’ve heard that even the roots can be eaten, their pan-fried crunch adding a decorative and delicious garnish to soups and pasta dishes. For those of you who are gardeners as well as cooks: in late fall you can push some garlic cloves into the ground and next spring you’ll have your own crop to harvest – I’m putting a note in my calendar so I remember to try this myself.
Another early product of the garlic plant is the garlic scape. Garlic scapes are the flower shoot of the garlic plant and farmers cut them off to encourage their plants to devote their energy to producing nice fat bulbs. Like spring garlic, the scapes were originally harvested as a pruning technique and not intended for sale, but the curly treats now have their own devotees. We first learned about garlic scapes a few years ago through our CSA where we were given a handful of the green stems with their pig tail curl and tiny flower buds. We had no idea what to do with them. But scapes too, have a mild garlic flavor and can be loosely chopped and eaten raw in salads, or steamed, sautéed or sauced for a hint of garlic flavor. Unfortunately scapes do not show up at our local farmer’s markets until about June, but I thought perhaps they would be ready in the sunnier climes of California where fellow bloggers always reduce me to jealous tears with tales of the copious produce available while we are still subsisting on root cellared potatoes. Or maybe you’ve used these in years past and just want to remind yourself and inspire us with tales of long forgotten kitchen glory.
Finally, we’ll also welcome to the show our garlic’s wild cousin, the ramp, a wild leek with a decidedly garlicky flavor. Ramps show up in the New York City farmer’s market in April and cause waves of excitement (a rampage!) in the foodie community before very quickly disappearing a few weeks later. Local foragers also find them in the city parks where their oniony scent identifies them. My favorite use of ramp is pickled as a cocktail garnish: but that tells you more about me than about the vegetable. Ramps have a mild garlic flavor and so can be used generously in all sorts of dishes . I like to pair them with other seasonal favorites like asparagus and I’ve seen recipes for ramp pizzas and pastas that both look delicious, they make a delicious sauce or side for fish or chicken as well.
Our roundup of recipes featuring these spring garlic treats will be posted on May 10th, please submit by May 9th. You can submit by emailing a photo of your dish (600 pixels wide) and a link to your blog post/recipe (or to flickr if you don’t have a blog) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make sure your email subject heading says Garlic Treasures. You don’t have to cook something specially for this, if you have a post from previous years that we can link to, we’d all love the inspiration so please share both new and old alike.