Friday, June 26, 2009

The Great (E)Scape

One of the best parts about living the farmers market/CSA life is getting a hold of awesome produce that rarely sees the inside of a grocery store. Whether it's ramps, fiddlehead ferns or crosnes, the only way to get a shot at buying everything that grows on a farm is to follow a farmer. Spring and early summer are especially fruitful times for these types of products, since often the mature versions of vegetables that we're accustomed to eating are nothing like their young counterparts (which are only just sprouting in the spring). Several members of the allium family like garlic, onions, chives and shallots are known to play Jekyll and Hyde where their appearance and flavor are concerned, depending on what point in their life they've been picked.

Garlic in particular makes quite the evolution from seed to bulb, but manages to remain delicious the whole way.
We've all come to know garlic in its mature form as a white bulb that breaks into cloves. But on the road to becoming a grown-up bulb, garlic goes through and interesting--and delicious--period as a teenager, when it's known as green garlic. The bulb has just started to grow but remains quite small, about 1/4 the size of your average mature bulb. It's not yet separated into cloves and instead resembles the rings of a spring onion. And much like a spring onion, there are long green stems attached to the bulb. Their flavor is milder than a fully grown bulb and absolutely delicious raw, with none of the overpowering piquancy of raw garlic cloves. I like using it in dishes where fully grown garlic could be deemed too strong, like in eggs, delicate pestos, and especially in pasta. I just cook off some noodles, usually spaghetti, angel hair or linguine, grate the green garlic into the bottom of a bowl with a splosh of olive oil, a little parmesan cheese and pepper. Then I add in the piping hot pasta and toss everything together. The heat from the pasta cooks the garlic ever so slightly and perfumes the dish wonderfully. You can even add a few teaspoons of the pasta water for a more substantial sauce, or some greens that would wilt easily.

And believe it or not, even before garlic goes through its teen phase, it has yet another edible early stage. When garlic is first starting to mature in its earliest stage, it sprouts flowers whose delicate stems curl onto themselves, taking on loopy, cascading shapes. In order for the bulbs to continue growing into the mature and pungent garlic bulbs we know and love, the garlic "scapes," as these flowering stems are called, must be cut off. For years they were discarded as waste (as they continue to be in mass producing farms), when they are in fact one of springs most delicious products. Subtle and very mildly flavored, they can be added to a number of dishes where garlic cloves would be out of the question. From gazpacho to pasta and risotto, you can use it a hundred different ways, including raw in salads and blanched like green beans. I have a few recipes in store for mine, including a white bean and garlic scape dip, not to mention a great risotto primavera that utilizes these little guys to the fullest. I have a double dose sitting in my fridge that I can't wait to tackle, and I highly suggest that everyone get out to their local farmers market and try to find some. You won't regret it!


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