Sarah Gilbert is a freelance financial writer; she keeps chickens; and she’s a beginning urban farmer. She lives with her three small boys and husband in Portland, Oregon, and keeps her own blog, Cafe Mama.

Green garlic on pizza

The mother of invention

By
May 21, 2008

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.

Green garlic pesto on pizza, ready to go in the oven.

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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1. by valereee on May 21, 2008 at 3:00 PM PDT

AND! And and and! Green garlic is easy to grow in most soils, deer and rabbits don’t like it, and it can be chopped and frozen without first blanching.

2. by cafemama on May 21, 2008 at 9:06 PM PDT

ooh, really valereee? thanks! i’m definitely going to plant bunches of it in the fall (you plant garlic in the fall, yes?). are there any varieties you especially like?

3. by valereee on May 22, 2008 at 1:18 AM PDT

Yes, you plant it in the fall, after your first hard frost. And you can just plant any old garlic. I’ve not noticed a major difference in taste of the green garlic between the varieties -- maybe when the plants are young, they haven’t developed their mature flavors. But by all means if you’re planting garlic, plant green garlic from the same stock. When you pull the head of garlic apart into cloves, separate the nice big cloves from the small ones. Use the nice big cloves to cook with or plant for next year’s fall crop, and plant the little skinny cloves for green garlic.

4. by Fasenfest on Jun 10, 2008 at 7:57 AM PDT

And, when you are buying copra onions and nuts your are also buying foods that are not exactly in season but rather have been store well for later seasons. Copra onions are a variety that hold up well for storage. I am growing a bunch this year to see how long I can keep them in the “root cellar”. Walnuts are “ripe” in Autumn and we buy them cracked in 50 pound bags for .50 cents a pound already roasted and get them out of the shell during football (the price the husband pays for watching) and then I freeze them for year-round use. Talk about delicious. I go to Jossey Farms to get the goods (as I do his peaches) and you can ride with me this year if you would like.

Finally, dried, or cured, garlics are another item that can keep well for a long time if properly stored but will start sprouting by spring in the the best of situations. And growing garlic is one of the things, along with tomatoes, that I think most new gardeners should start with. You can plant the cloves in rows and rows and rows along the fence posts or any out of the way place that gets good sun and you will reap the harvest the following summer. And garlic, like I am want to say, will make old shoes taste good if you add enough.

You must cure them which only means to hang them somewhere away from the sun (that’s where the braiding comes in) when they are ready to dig up (the tops will yellow and die back) and so it goes. And if you suspect they are about to sprout you can puree the mass with a little salt and olive oil and store it in the fridge for a shot of garlic when you need it. Of course, green garlic from the farmer’s market is fine and good but I know you will be paying a proper penny for it. Not that it is not worth it but, sustainability on a budget does suggest a having one.

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