Friday, June 11, 2010

Focus: GARLIC (Allium Sativum)

"My final, considered judgment is that the hardy bulb (garlic) blesses and ennobles everything it touches - with the possible exception of ice cream and pie."  Angelo Pellegrini, The Unprejudiced Palate, 1948  And if you think these are strong words, then you should hear Mark Bittman:  "Garlic is probably the most important vegetable in recorded history(really) because of its universal value as a seasoning."  How to Cook Everything

My thoughts exactly.  And my fellow Americans apparently agree.  Back in the 1920's U.S. per capita garlic consumption was about half a pound a year. It hovered at that level until the 1970's, when the rate of consumption started climbing.  By 2000 we were at about 2.5 pounds per year. This is an encouraging sign.  Less encouraging is the fact that about three quarters of our garlic consumption is in dehydrated form.

World garlic production
Some of you might have read my Focus post last week on asparagus.  Remember the part about China growing so much asparagus?  Same with garlic.   China grows about 75% of the world's garlic.  Of the garlic that the U.S. imports, 75% comes from China.  In 1999, 40,000 acres were devoted to garlic production in the U.S. (90 % in California).  By 2008 that figure had decreased to 25,440 acres.     Fresh garlic commands a good price at Minnesota farmers markets -- from $5 to $10 a pound.  So there is some financial incentive to grow garlic here - as long as consumers are willing to pay a premium for the fresh and local kind.  I am glad we are growing some garlic in Minnesota.  Considering it is such an important vegetable it just seems right that we do some of the work ourselves.

History, use and nutrition
Garlic originated in central Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years.   Throughout history it has been used for medicinal as well as culinary purposes.  Chinese medicine has long used garlic to lower blood pressure and treat heart disease and high cholesterol.  Garlic has antibiotic, antiseptic and antioxidant properties.  It contains vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and sulfur compounds.

Garlic comes in the form of a bulb or head, which contains individual cloves.  After garlic is mature, the bulb has a papery outer covering and each clove has a papery covering.   Each cook has his or her own ways to peel garlic.  I have never favored the various gadgets and presses.  I just put a clove or two or three on a board and then whack them with a little block of wood.  Once the clove is partly smashed,  it is easy to remove the peel.  If you are peeling a large quantity of cloves at one time, you could try putting them into boiling water for just a minute to loosen the skins.  If you are roasting garlic, no peeling is necessary - you just squish out the soft insides after the bulb is cooked.

I like (no - I NEED) to have fresh garlic on hand in my kitchen at all times.   Some times good garlic is hard to find.  Featherstone produces hard neck garlic - which tends to be mild in flavor and grows well in northern climates.  It is sold dry in August and can be stored 3 to 6 months.  You might consider stocking up on local garlic when it is in season.  I am lucky because we grow most of our garlic in our own garden.  But despite our best efforts to store the garlic in a cool, dark and dry place,  by this time of year our garlic is looking pretty sad.  In fact I really have not had any good garlic for about 6 weeks now.  (Note: best to store garlic at 32 to 40 degrees; 60-70% humidity)  That is why it is so exciting to get scapes and green garlic in our CSA box. 

How to use scapes and green garlic
Green garlic is simply immature garlic, and garlic scapes are those curly wild looking green things.  I know you have lots of questions about these less familiar forms of garlic, so let's talk about how to use them.

Scapes are the shoots that grow from the heads of hardneck garlic. They are a spring time culinary delicacy and hard to find.  They are often discarded - at least by the big producers, probably because most consumers don't know what to do with them and they are handled and marketed differently than mature garlic.  So lucky you, now you get to unlock the mysteries of scapes. 

Here are a few ideas:
Chop fresh scapes finely. Add to cream cheese along with some chopped fresh dill for a spread for crackers or sandwiches.  This would make a good omelet filling too.
Add finely chopped fresh scapes to mayonnaise (see this week's post on how to make mayo at home)
Puree with oil, parmesan and walnuts or pine nuts for a pesto - use with pasta or pizza
Chop and add to spaghetti sauce
Cut to desired length and saute with fresh asparagus
Cut up and add to soups or salads

Green Garlic
Since this garlic is immature, the tough papery skin has not yet formed.  I just slice off the root end and the green part of the stalk and chop up the whole bulb.  I do take out that small hard core in the middle.  That is why they call this hard neck garlic. Save the green stalk for soup stock. You can use it as you would regular garlic -- in salad dressings, soups, sautes, stir fries, etc.  I have put a simple recipe for garlic lovers below. If you want to delve deeper - this is a good link:

Cook your favorite "long pasta" such as spaghetti, linguine or fettucine in well salted water.
While the pasta cooks, heat up olive oil in a large skillet.  (About 2 T. oil per serving) Chop a bulb of green garlic and about 6 garlic scapes.   (This should be enough for about 8 T. oil (8 T = 1/2 cup)  It is okay to use more garlic if you love it. Saute both garlic and scapes at low to medium heat until soft.  Don't burn or brown.  Set aside.  Drain pasta, saving a little pasta water.  Toss pasta with oil and garlic.  Add a little water if too dry.  Serve with grated parmesan, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes if you like a little heat.

Tomorrow:  Tried and True - Rhubarb Sauce

1 comment:

  1. Peggy,
    Sorry it took me this long to follow the blog. Thanks for including green garlic and it's little sister the scape. So many people don't know about the existence of these 2 lesser known forms of allium sativum.
    I'm looking into some longer term storage theories for garlic and will share them if they come to fruition.
    I'd have to respectfully disagree with the storage criteria of 32-40 degrees and 60-70% humidity. 32-40 degrees typically induces growth. 45-60 degrees and 50-60% humidity is a little better for optimal long term storage, but we all know optimal is almost impossible to achieve without commercial storage. Given the fact that we live in SE MN, your criteria are probably closer to reality.
    Thanks for talking about my favorite vegy.