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Thursday, 15 May 2014

What to do with green garlic

If asked, "What shall I do with all this green garlic," some of you may be wondering what green garlic is, let alone what to do with it. It is sometimes also known as wet garlic and it simply the ordinary garlic plant, harvested before it is fully mature. Normally, when growing garlic you would take a whole garlic bulb and split it into the individual cloves and then plant each clove in the ground, showing at the surface and with about 6 inches or so between each clove. Each clove will then put down roots and grow 3 long green leaves from it. Over time, the clove will develop into a full bulb of garlic, made up of 10 or so garlic cloves. Usually, sometime in July, the foliage will die back and the white or purple outer skin of the bulb will dry out and become papery. On a nice dry day, the bulbs can be lifted and put into open trays or boxes for storage through the winter, or plaited and hung up if you prefer.

The summer of 2012, you may recall, was a wet one. I can't remember properly now, but I guess the normal harvesting days in July were too soggy to try to lift and store our garlic harvest and then, somewhere during the following dreary days, we forgot that we hadn't harvested our garlic and they remained hidden, just below the surface of the soil until the following spring when they sprung back into life. Keen to get growing, every one of the individual cloves shot out green leaves, making each bulb of garlic into a little clump of greenery, too cramped to grow new bulbs. We decided that these rows of tightly packed garlic, rather than making a good crop, would do very nicely as a smelly deterrent for black fly on our broad bean plants so we planted rows of broad beans between our rows of garlic.

After the broad beans had been harvested, we left the garlic to once again stand in the ground through the winter. You may think that garlic is something from hot countries and that it would be killed off by the British winter but instead garlic grows best if it gets cold. Ideally, if you are going to grow garlic from cloves then they are best planted in the autumn and left to get cold during the winter. Failing that, pop your garlic in the fridge for a few days before you plant them out in the spring.

This spring, once again the rows of cramped garlic cloves sprung back into life but this year I decided it was time to take some action. The plants were growing away very strongly and it seemed a shame to leave them with too little space to be able to form full bulbs. Thinning was required - a ruthless job that many gardens find difficult to do as it seems so mean. For me, this meant digging up each row of garlic and selecting from it the 6 biggest and best looking plants from it for replanting. The remaining plants were surplus to requirements in terms of growing but still perfectly edible.

When you think "green garlic", think of it as the spring onion version of the garlic. It has a much milder flavour and all of it can be eaten from the bulb to wherever the leaves start to get a bit tough. Like spring onions, it is a fresh vegetable and needs to be eaten up within a week or so. Where only the hardened garlic lover might add normal garlic to a salad, green garlic can be snipped up and eaten raw, or even added to mayonnaise or yoghurts to make a dip. It has more flavours to it then the in your face one that dry garlic has so it nicer to eat as a vegetable so it is pleasant snipped up and added to stirfry or even a fish dish.

With 6 rows of green garlic all dug up in one go, I ended up with quite a lot of the stuff to deal with. I have been adding it to any dish that I might otherwise have used garlic for, remembering to add more than I think I need to compensate for its mild flavour. I have also used it where I might otherwise have used spring onion. Even so, I still had masses to hand so decided to find ways of adding it to preserves. The first I tried was a chutney based on the ingredients list on a jar of Roasted Garlic Chutney I found on sale. I worked out a recipe for it and decided to roast the onions too that were required. It filled the house up with very appetising aromas whilst that was cooking. The end result was delicious but much more an onion flavour than a garlic one and, with a much higher proportion of onion to garlic used in the recipe, I decided it ought to be called "Roasted Onion Chutney" instead. It is gorgeous though, so I shall definitely be making a few more batches of that before my green garlic runs out and maybe some later in the year with my normal garlic.

Another recipe I tried was my usual herb mustard one. This is a handy way to use any fresh herb of your choice and I have made sage mustard and rosemary mustard in the past. In this recipe, I added 3 times as much green garlic to the amount of fresh herb I would usually use in order to make up for the mild flavour. When people eat "Garlic Mustard", they are expecting a strong garlic flavour so it is important to give it some wellie! Whereas crushed garlic would become hidden amongst the yellow mustard, green garlic can be seen as attractive flecks throughout the jar. Once made, it is best left to mature for a few weeks before using and then it is particularly good used for smearing over raw meat, such as lamb, before grilling, roasting or barbecuing.

Herb Mustard

15g fresh herbs (or 45g green garlic)
50g plain flour
75g mustard powder
25g caster sugar
1 tbsp salt
100ml white wine vinegar

Finely chop the herbs. Sift the flour and mustard powder into a bowl and add the sugar and salt and stir well. Add the herbs and vinegar to the bowl and stir until a smooth paste forms. Spoon into sterilised jars and seal. Store for in a cool, dark place for a week (or more) for the flavours to develop. Refrigerate after opening.

Another favourite of mine is "Wild Garlic Pesto" and green garlic has a very similar flavour to the naturally growing woodland cousin. So instead of using foraged ransoms, I blitz a load of green garlic in the food processor to make green garlic pesto. I have since used this to add to all sorts of recipes such as stirfries and stuffed mushrooms. At first I would put in just a teaspoon of the stuff but the flavour was lost so I have been more brave and added several spoonfuls. At the same time, I chopped up 100g and added it to a 250g block of softened butter to make some garlic butter, ideal for making garlic bread.

Green Garlic Pesto

200g green garlic
50g onion or shallot
50g pine nuts
150ml olive oil
Half tsp salt
Half tsp sugar

Blitz the garlic in the food processor until chopped then add all the other ingredients and blitz again until well chopped and combined. Pack into a large jar and top up with olive oil to cover. Store in the fridge and keep topping up the covering of olive oil whenever any pesto is used.

Stuffed Mushrooms

4 large flat mushrooms
1 large leek
1 pack of pancetta or 4 rashers of streaky bacon
1 tbsp green garlic pesto (just just green garlic or even just 1 garlic clove)
Salt & pepper
1 slice of brown bread turned into breadcrumbs
A grating of fresh Parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4. Carefully remove the stalks from the mushrooms and place the mushrooms into a suitable ovenproof dish. Chop up the stalks and the leeks. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms, leeks and pancetta until just beginning to brown. Add the salt and pepper and green garlic pesto and cook for 1 more minute. Spoon this mixture equally onto the mushrooms then sprinkle on the breadcrumbs and cheese. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden.

I have to say that I have really enjoyed both the challenge of using up a glut in May (not the normal time of year for glut challenges), and the array of delightful food I have created from it. I'm tempted now to leave some of this year's garlic yield in the ground this summer so that next spring I will have another crop of this tasty ingredient.

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