For years, garlic meant pungent bulbs beneath papery sheaths.
Actually, before that, garlic meant pulverized-into-pulp mush in a jar, the already-chopped garlic bulbs forced together to sit, waiting, for months, for someone to use them. Convenience dictated plopping a spoonful into my pasta, to yield taste, fast. My fingers never grew messy with the sticky juices of bulbs slithering down the knife blade, lending their particular scent to my hands and hair for days. I never touched garlic. The spoon dipped, the pan received, and I remained eye-smarting stench-free.
It never felt right, somehow. Too antiseptic, too much like cheating. And when I realized just how old that browned garlic in a jar really was, I gave it up for the real thing.
Except I switched to the garlic press, which smashed the bulbs for me, and only required a quick scrape of a paring knife, and into the pan. I ran hot water over the withered remnants of the skin inside the press, so by the time I touched it, nothing of the smell remained on my fingers. However, the paste that stayed in my food reeked of garlic with a capital G. I didn’t know for years that pressing the garlic releases juices that intensify the silent-but-deadly scent that drives so many people away.
Then I found the joy of pounding bulbs open with the flat edge of a large chef’s knife. So what if my fingers stung with pungency and the board beneath took on a different color. It felt good to smack the heck out of that garlic, and then slice it, thin as I could, before sliding it into dishes. Much more subtle, much more satisfying.
And then, last spring, I stumbled onto this: green garlic. These nascent bulbs, vivid magenta fading to white, are the immature starts of the storage bulbs that last all winter long. Pull them from the earth early, and you find these scraggly green stalks, like a stunted leek or scallions slightly askew. Chop them up like green onions and flick them into stir frys at the last moment. They make baked potatoes an even more perfect food. And since this vegetable is a sure sign of spring solidly here, green garlic seems to be close friends with fava beans and English peas.
A few weeks ago, I had a cup of potato-leek soup with green garlic and tarragon oil at Crush, late at night. I’m still thinking about it, figuring out how to make it.
Certainly, when I slice up green garlic, there is no palm-enjoyable thwack with the knife. But there’s also no sticky juice, no pile of papery leftovers, and no stench that some simply cannot stand. (Not the Chef, of course. He loves garlic, used in moderation.)
Best of all, green garlic is ephemeral, bound to disappear soon. I like to eat it often, now, and then long for newly born garlic early next spring.
So how about you? Have you discovered green garlic? And if so, how do you like to use this green, green vegetable?
p.s. This morning, after I published this piece, someone alerted me to the fact that this week’s Sunday New York Times magazine published a musing on green garlic. I hadn’t read it, until now, but I certainly recommend it. That parsley-green garlic vinaigrette is going on grilled halibut tonight.