There’s no better time for lovers of the stinking rose than July and August: in July, brilliant, serpent-y garlic scapes glow like green lights from produce bins, while fresh garlic bulbs pile up, pale and mild, in the cooler case. Nearby, nestled among potatoes and onions, hardened-off purple-stripe garlic from Argentina beckons with crooked fingers of garlic scent.
Given the popularity of dips and spreads in summer, garlic, in one form or another, is bound to play a spirited part. Everyone’s familiar with the hardened-off garlic that floods our markets in September and October. But the milder forms of garlic that grace Mississippi Market’s produce department in July and August are worthy of your attention, too. If you haven’t used garlic scapes or green garlic, now’s the time to give them a try.
These beautiful contortionists are the flower stalks of garlic plants, which is why they’re only available in late spring and early summer. The tip (known as the beak) is the most flavorful part, as it is on, say, Chinese chives, but the entire stalk offers mild, garlicky flavor. Scapes are terrific grilled; to protect their delicate skin, anoint them first with a 3:1 mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar, salt them, and be prepared to keep an eye on them on the grill to prevent burning. If scapes are young and tender, they can also be chopped up for use in salads, dips, and spreads. Older, tougher scapes benefit from being blanched first to soften them up. Young or old, scapes add brilliant color and cumulatively garlicky, if mild, flavor to stir-fries, pasta dishes, and pizzas—just be sure to pan-fry them briefly first to release their volatile oils.
Garlic increases in potency and depth of flavor as it cures/dries. If you find some garlics overwhelming, if you prefer sweet onions like Vidalias and Walla Wallas to other varieties, you may find that green garlic is just your cup of tea: it’s much milder and juicier than older bulbs. That said, you’ll probably want to mince it up finely or use a garlic press to ensure that its flavor can shine. Local farmers are increasingly selling part of their garlic crop as green garlic to span the season before hardened-off garlic becomes available, and that’s why we buy it, too. Given its mildness, you couldn’t ask for a more cooperative bulb than green garlic when you want a gentle-but-garlicky flavor for your summer salads. Keep green garlic refrigerated; if you leave it out on the countertop or in a dry cupboard, you’ll harden it off soon enough.
And now we come to the main event for all garlic lovers: the hardened-off garlic of late summer-early fall! You can’t do better in sleuthing this out than by driving out to the Sustainable Farming Association’s 7th Annual Minnesota Garlic Festival (Saturday, August 11, 2012, 10 am–6 pm) at the McLeod County fairgrounds in Hutchinson. Minnesota’s most ardent professional growers will be there, selling their hardened-off garlic by the bulb, the pound, the bushel. Chefs from The Birchwood, Lucia’s, Common Roots, and Restaurant Alma will be cooking up potently garlicky dishes for your brunch and lunch at the Great Scape Café. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids; 2-for-1 adult admission coupons are available online at www.sfa-mn.org/garlicfest.
Here at Mississippi Market, probably the all-time favorite local garlic variety is the porcelain variety “Georgian Fire.” The cloves are huge, as fiery as their name promises—and alas! they don’t store very well, so scoop them up when you see them, make yourself a 40-clove garlic chicken dish or something else that honors the glorious stinking rose, and settle in for winter with better-storing varieties. (Most soft-necked garlic—the typical grocery store white variety with a soft stem issuing from the center of the tightly packed bulb—is grown in and imported from China (roughy 80%), and flavorwise, it offers vague garlickiness but nothing memorable.)
Finally, here is Elizabeth David’s quick, easy recipe for a wonderful sauce/spread that can be used by itself or as a tasty addition to a soup, pizza, or pasta: the inspired Greek dish skordalia. David’s version uses ground almonds and bread crumbs, resulting in an almost ethereal texture, that of a homemade mayonnaise (which it is). You can make a sturdier variant by mashing potatoes, adding water or cream to thin them to a diplike texture, foregoing the egg yolks and almonds, and then adding the other ingredients.
Elizabeth David’s Scordalia
Adapted from A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950)
2 egg yolks
2 oz. ground almonds
2 oz. fresh white bread crumbs
½ dozen cloves of garlic
½ c. olive oil
fresh lemon juice to taste
sea salt to taste
1. Pound garlic in a mortar or food processor, add yolks, and then olive oil, bit by bit, as for mayonnaise.
2. When the sauce achieves a mayonnaise-y texture, stir in ground almonds and bread crumbs (these stabilize the sauce). Add lemon juice and chopped parsley.