I ran out of garlic, and I panicked a bit when I realized that the stinky white bulbs were entirely out of season. I walked the winter farmers’ market back and forth a few Sundays before I accepted that there was none to be had. I bought a bunch of Copra onions, and handfuls of shallots, and I made do.
My husband, who rebels against my totalitarian local-and sustainable-foods regime (I’ve had to give up on mayonnaise), bought a couple of heads of garlic in February. Though I protested, I used them slowly, rationing.
In years past, I’d purchased the young versions of onion family members I really preferred as adults, and given my skepticism, they weren’t well used. It’s possible most of my purchases ended up in the compost heap. But in years past, I wasn’t scanning the chalkboard signs at my organic produce mart, only stopping to look at the heaped produce below if I saw the word “local.” This was a new regime, and generally a good one, though I’d never been entirely out of garlic before. I was out of sorts.
Now it was April, and though I still didn’t have a solid handle on the life cycle of a garlic plant, I was bound and determined to get something with that bite I loved. My favorite farmers’ market was finally open, and I had a pocket full of cash for the occasion. “Garlic” was still on my list.
Again, I found shallots, and gathered a pound or more. They’re great with rapini and young braising greens like kale and collard, which I’d also heaped into my market bags. I’d done the circuit of the market a time or two, and my back was aching from carrying many pounds of groceries and baby. It was time to go, and still no garlic. I stopped at the bountiful stand which was on my way out toward our bus stop, and saw the piled-up bunches of green garlic. Well, I’d try it.
On the first night, I avoided it, and again on the second night. On the third night, I had promised pizza, and as I rolled out the dough, I realized there were no tomatoes in the house. It was dinner time and then some; I wasn’t going to run out for anything. I did a quick survey of my culinary belongings. Well, there was that green garlic. What I really wanted was a white pizza, but white pizza with green garlic? Improbable.
Ah, well. I was suddenly dying for pesto. I chopped the parts of the garlic I thought looked good into 1-inch lengths, and I grabbed a couple of handfuls of walnuts and toasted them in a saucepan. I’d need cheese. What I had was an ounce or two of Ancient Heritage Dairy's Hannah Bridge Heritage, fantastic rich salty toasty hard cheese. Some salt and pepper, and I whizzed it in my food processor along with a slow stream of the really good extra-virgin olive oil on which we’d splurged.
It smelled good. Not just good. Poetic. I tasted.
What happened next is hard to describe. I wanted to cry a little, or jump, or maybe run outside and dart up and down the block, waving my arms and proclaiming the perfection of the stuff. That really didn’t seem all that sane, and besides, I didn’t want to share too much of it. I barely had enough for one of the pizzas (I plotted deviously to make a second sauce out of roasted red peppers for the children, who tended to enjoy traditionally colored foods). So I just put a bit in front of my husband. “Taste!” I ordered.
He agreed: it was the best stuff ever. The pizza that resulted was nuanced, toasty, salty, perfumed with garlic and cheese and nuts. The pesto on the edges became decidedly brown and crumbly, like a crumb topping on a fruit dessert, only better.
The next time I was at the market, I bought two bunches of green garlic. And the biggest chunk of Hannah Bridge I could find in the pile. I asked Mr. Ancient Heritage about it. Could he describe it for the people who wouldn’t be able to get it? What would be a good substitute?
The conversation which ensued is for another day, but the cheese is apparently a little bit like a manchego, but not at all. If you’re in Rhode Island, or California, and can’t get Ancient Heritage cheese, I’m so sorry. Try pecorino or Parmesan or something highly inferior like that. And put your green garlic pesto on pizzas, or mix it with some lemon juice and a lighter oil for a world-altering salad dressing (baby romaine, watercress, Black Forest ham, and Rogue River Blue was one winning medium), or dip little roasted spears of asparagus in it, or maybe some little spring artichokes. You should definitely try it on pasta, especially if you’ve made the pasta yourself.
This isn’t just about green garlic, though; it’s about discovering the possibilities of seasonality. I was never before limited by the fresh products of my locality. It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t eat green beans in the spring or asparagus in the fall. I never before thought outside the grocery aisles. And doing so has opened my world and forced me to find the true harmony of my culinary world.
Fresh foods weren’t meant to travel so far and get mushed together in one night on one table. Creation did not assume one would be jamming fresh peaches together with rhubarb. There is a natural song that must be attended to, and one must find the notes where they are and let them play out.
Only then will green garlic, sheep cheese, and toasted nuts truly sing. Fill your kitchen with its harmony while you can.
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