All too often cooks use garlic with a heavy hand.  When there’s too much, it overwhelms an otherwise lovely dish. When subtle and controlled, it adds incomparable savory flavor.

Tender spring garlic might just be garlic at its best. We found some beautiful stalks at our local farmers’ market the other day, grown by Gravity Hill Farm in nearby Titusville, New Jersey, which grows some of the loveliest vegetables we’ve seen.  When we see spring garlic at the market we know we’ve fully left winter behind.

Also called green garlic or new garlic, spring garlic is the young garlic plant that shoots up before the large bulb full of individual cloves forms in the ground. At this stage it looks like a skinny leek or even a large scallion, with a pink or purple tint near the root. Though these tender plants are pulled up whole in early spring to make more room for the plants that will mature through the summer, they are certainly not second best.

We are crazy for spring garlic’s subtle flavor and seek it out during its very short season, as it is the first in four stages of growth for the garlic plant. Next we’ll await the arrival of garlic scapes—the long, wildly curled flower stalks that come from the same bulb. The scapes typically shoot up in June and July after the garlic bulb has grown larger and are snipped off the top of the plant while the bulb continues to mature. They are beautiful in the garden but a bit strong for our tastes, so we fill vases full of them and catch a whiff of their garlicky scent as we pass by. The third stage is fresh garlic, which is the just-harvested version of the familiar bulb sold in most stores. Fresh garlic is a rarer find as most garlic is cured (hung to dry for a few weeks) during which it develops a papery white skin and a longer shelf life.

Spring garlic is sweeter, gentler, and almost more innocent in this stage than it will be as it matures. It can be used raw or cooked to add mild garlic flavor with less pungent heat (and with less need for hesitation on the part of the cook). At Canal House we mince raw spring garlic into vinaigrette, or add thin slices to a potato-leek soup. It gives a nice background flavor to the delicate spring offerings—fava beans, lettuce, peas, artichokes, and asparagus—that could be overpowered by mature garlic. Look for it at farmers’ markets now through early June.

 

 

I’d been waiting for this moment all spring.

Ever since the days began to grow longer and the ground was warm enough to dig. I’d nailed together the frames for the new raised beds and nestled them into their trenches. I’d tilled the heavy topsoil, turning in small truckloads of rich black compost. I was sure I’d planted everything a little too early—before the hard frosts were over—yet only had to protect the seedlings once by draping the entire garden with long disposable paper tablecloths the one night the temperature dropped below freezing. I’ve been watering and weeding. Giving support to tendrils, staking branches before they brake.

I’d been waiting for this moment all spring.

When I could cut a head of cauliflower from its roots and unfold its broad sturdy leaves I’d snapped over to blanch it, revealing its tight white curd. When the English peas had swollen so fully in their pods they had to be picked. When I could reach way under the huge green thorny leaves of the zucchini plants and carefully cut off tiny pinky-size squash attached to buxom pale orange blossoms. When the turnips finally filled out and were worth pulling from the ground. And when the chard would be standing tall and proud.

I’d been waiting for this moment all spring.

When there would be enough to gather from my garden to make a simple lunch for us at Canal House. That moment arrived this week. Just seventy-five days whence I began. The meal couldn’t have been more simple. Nothing could have been more satisfying.
Melissa Hamilton

 

OUR FIRST SPRING GARDEN-TO-TABLE LUNCH

Tiny Zucchini with their Blossoms Fritto Misto—we started off with a quick fritto misto, dipping the small handful of zucchini-laden blossoms in a thin batter then fried them in pure olive oil. Pure heaven.

English Peas in Irish Butter—we shelled the fat starchy sweet English peas and cooked them in a tiny bit of water and lots of salted Irish butter.

Cauliflower with Brown Butter—we had three fist-size heads. We steamed them until very tender. While that was going on, we made a small skillet-full of brown butter with slivers of garlic, then poured that toasted nutty deliciousness over the heads.

Young Turnips—we trimmed and peeled these then gave them the same luxurious treatment as the cauliflower.

Tender Swiss Chard with Cannellini—we sautéed the chard in olive oil with peperoncini, first the sliced stalks, then the leaves, wilting them in the warm oil just at the end. To flesh out the meal, we added cannellini beans we’d had on hand from a previous meal. They were meant for each other.

Salad of Head and Leaf Lettuces—we finished our meal the way we often do, with tender floppy greens tossed with an anchovy and lemon vinaigrette.