Alan Tangren: Celebrate the summer garlic harvest
Dear Alan: I see garlic in the store all the time, and I’ve started wondering if it has a season. What time of year is it at its best?
You are in luck! Like other bulbing plants, garlic matures in midsummer. At Chez Panisse the annual Bastille Day celebration on July 14th has evolved into a garlic festival, honoring the new harvest. The whole restaurant is draped with garlic garlands and red, white and blue ribbons. The menu includes garlic in every course, sometimes even dessert..
In California, where many acres throughout the state are devoted to garlic production, the individual cloves are planted in the fall. In winter or spring you may notice the tiny green sprout in the middle of your clove of garlic at home. It’s garlic’s way of saying it’s time to grow!
The tender green sprouts start slowly, but underground the plants are sending roots deep into the soil as the winter rains come. As the weather warms in the spring, the tops grow vigorously, and the bulbs start to form underground.
Later, in the heat of early summer, the tops die back as the bulbs mature and form clusters of individual cloves, then harden and mature. The plants are then pulled from the ground and allowed to dry and finish ripening in airy, shady storage.
Garlic probably comes from Central Asia. It is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Ancient garlic lovers carried it to Egypt, Pakistan, India and China. The crusaders brought garlic to Europe. Spanish, French, and Portuguese settlers introduced garlic into the Americas.
Mature garlic is at its best from now until fall. Look for bulbs that are dry and hard, with tight skin. I usually choose bulbs that have large cloves, as they are easier to peel. Bulbs that are soft and fluffy were not matured properly and will not be good.
There are hundreds of varieties of garlic You may see some with pure white skin, or skin in various colors of pale or dark purple. Soft neck types will have soft necks; hard neck types will have a little bit of the central stalk attached. They all have slightly different flavor profiles, but any will work in most recipes.
Keep garlic in a cool, dry place at home, where there is good air circulation. A mesh bag that can be hung in the basement is a good place to store garlic. Don’t buy too much if you don’t have ideal storage. Later in the year it’s best to buy small amounts that have been stored properly by the grower.
Summer is the time to use garlic generously, even excessively! Roast whole heads slowly with thyme and olive oil, until the cloves melt into a purée. Use it raw in aïoli, rubbed on grilled bread, in salsas and salads.
Later in the year, garlic loses its sweet flavor and must be treated more carefully. I try to pry out the green sprout from garlic cloves in the winter. It is bitter. Remove any brown spots as well. Use winter garlic mostly in cooked preparations.
Peeling garlic always seems like an unwelcome chore. If you need one or two cloves, just pull off the papery covering of the bulb and pry out what you need. If you need a lot, turn the bulb on its head and press down firmly to separate the cloves.
Trim off the tough part of the clove where it was attached to the base. Place the flat side of a chef’s knife on the clove and smash down carefully with your fist. Then just pull off the skin.
To purée garlic, use a garlic press or mortar and pestle. Or fine chop with a good chef’s knife.
If you must chop or slice garlic ahead of time, be aware that garlic oxidizes quickly and loses quality when cut and exposed to air. Place chopped or sliced garlic in a small bowl, cover with olive oil, and refrigerate.
Garlic should be added to sautéed dishes toward the end of cooking. It develops an unpleasant bitterness if it gets more than a pale golden color.
Whole Roasted Garlic
Count on using one whole head of garlic per person. Roasted garlic is very mild and sweet. Start by peeling off the outer layer of skin from each head. Place them root end down in an ovenproof dish just large enough to hold them snugly.
Add stock or water to come up about ¼ of an inch, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly with foil and roast in a 375°F. oven for 20 to 30 minutes. If the heads are not fairly soft at this point, add a little more liquid, re-cover and roast until tender. Then uncover, drizzle with a little more oil and roast an additional 5 or 10 minutes.
Serve while still warm. Just break the heads apart and have your guests squeeze the soft garlic out of its skin. Spread on grilled bread, with a little goat cheese if you like. You can also purée the roasted garlic in a food mill and add it to sauces and soups or vegetable purées, especially mashed potatoes!
Aïoli is perfect for serving on cooked or raw summer vegetables, as a sauce for fish and shellfish, or just spread on a piece of grilled bread. Extra-virgin olive oil would be too strong a flavor if used by itself in the aioli. I like to cut it with plain salad oil to make a pleasantly flavored sauce. Use pasteurized eggs if you are not sure of the origin and freshness of the eggs you use.
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2/3 cup mixture of plain salad oil and extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Pound the peeled garlic and a pinch of salt in a mortar until puréed. Mix the garlic in a small bowl with the egg yolk and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil, in driblets at first. When the mixture thickens, add oil in a thin stream. Thin and flavor with lemon juice or vinegar as needed. Add a tablespoon of water if you want to thin it further without making it too tart. Cover and refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavor to develop.
May be stored covered in the refrigerator for several days.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill Street in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at email@example.com.
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