Before garlic matures into the pungent dried bulb we buy at the grocery store, it spends its childhood as a delicate, lightly perfumed stalk known as green garlic or spring garlic. Garlic cloves are planted in the fall, hibernate over the winter, and emerge in the spring. Early in its life, garlic is mostly green stalk with a barely discernible bulb resembling a scallion (though its stalks are flat rather than round). During mid-childhood it forms a small bulb, but with no clove separation, looking like a spring onion. During adolescence the bulb begins to differentiate into individual cloves and in adulthood the stalks die back. At this stage it is harvested, dried and stored for future use. This is the form we are most familiar with.
Green garlic speaks of spring and has a much milder taste as compared to mature cloves. Both the stalks and bulb of green garlic can be used to add gentle flavor to sautés, soups and stir-fries. Green garlic can also be eaten raw and used in salads or sandwiches. It is best kept refrigerated, wrapped in a moist towel in a plastic bag and used within a couple weeks after being harvested.
At Nonesuch in Oklahoma City, where I’ve begun my second career as a chef, the produce cooler reflects the progression of the spring growing season: this week its shelves are filled with trays of green garlic, asparagus, morel mushrooms, baby arugula and English peas. The 10-course tasting menu, which changes with the seasons, is currently featuring a delicate green garlic custard topped with toasted buckwheat berries, tiny first-picking English peas and grilled morel mushrooms. It is a dish that represents a moment in early spring and is my favorite on the current menu.
One of my favorite things to do at home is toss whole stalks of green garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper and slow roast them on the top rack of my grill for 10-15 minutes until perfectly tender. The grilled garlic stalks make a nice accompaniment for steak.
Grilled green garlic
1-2 bunches spring garlic
salt & pepper
Trim roots and dark green fibrous leaves from garlic stems and slice in half lengthwise.
Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat.
Place on the top rack of the grill with the heat on low and roast until tender and starting to brown.
Green garlic is ideal for pairing with the subtle tastes of springtime. This asparagus and green garlic soup just shouts spring. The addition of heavy or sour cream enriches it, but the soup is just as delicious using only water or chicken or vegetable stock.
Asparagus and Green Garlic Soup
Makes about 5 c., serving 4-6.
2 lb. asparagus
1 T. butter
1/2 - 3/4c. heavy cream or sour cream, optional
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 c. water, or chicken or vegetable stock, plus additional if needed
1 large or 2 or more small green garlics (approximately ½ c. thinly sliced and loosely packed).
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus by holding the bottom of each stalk with one hand and gently but firmly bending the top over with the other hand until the bottom breaks off. Discard the bottoms.
Cut the asparagus tips off and reserve. Thinly slice the remaining stalks. If the asparagus has a wide variety of thicknesses, cut the thinner ones into larger pieces so that it all cooks more or less evenly. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, melt half of the butter over medium high heat. Add the asparagus tips, sprinkle lightly with salt and stir-fry until the tips are just crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes, depending on their size. Immediately remove from the pan and put them on a plate to cool quickly. Set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium, and add the remaining butter and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is softened but not browned, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the sliced asparagus stalks to the pan and cover with the water. You may need to add a little additional water. The asparagus should just be covered. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus is completely tender, but still bright green. This should take no more than five minutes.
When the asparagus is tender, immediately put the pan in a large pan or sink of very cold water to which some ice cubes have been added. Stir frequently and add more ice to the sink as the water warms up.
When the mixture has cooled, purée it in a blender or food processor. It (and the reserved tips) can be refrigerated at this point for several days until ready to serve.
To serve, return the mixture to the saucepan and heat through. Thin with additional water or the heavy or sour cream if desired. If using sour cream, be sure to not let the soup boil after adding it. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Warm the reserved tips gently in a microwave or pan. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the tips. Serve immediately
Peter Glatz sends his greetings to Springfield from windy Oklahoma where he’s enjoying bison burgers and watching for tornados.