I keep a cute card pinned to the corkboard above my desk, a caricature of a girl wearing a pink dress, saddle shoes and oversized eyeglasses. Cursive below the knock-kneed girl reads, "Garlic is as good as 10 mothers." What a great sentiment for garlic lovers! It says to me that garlic is medicinal; good for what ails you, and hints that garlic's culinary properties enhance a mother's cooking prowess. Or... some say the rest of the sentence is "...for keeping the boys [girls] away." Either way, a 1980 documentary with that title, by Les Blank, is an ode to everything garlic.
Garlic the vegetable is more than 10 of anything; there are hundreds of varieties of allium sativum. The two easily recognized sub-species are hardneck and softneck. These two have their own sub-varietals, with cultivar sub-groups yet under them. Each variation differs in color, size, flavor, rarity, weather fussiness, and growing and storage requirements. Some have larger and fewer cloves and some are spicier than others. Trivia: Elephant garlic is an allium but not sativum—it is botanically a wild leek.
Choosing which varietal to grow and sell depends on garlic's end use. We can generalize that softneck is the garlic we buy in grocery stores and there is a 60% chance it was grown in China. Softneck varieties are often used for braids because of the softer, pliable neck. Garlic from Gilroy, California, self-named "garlic capitol of the world," is usually softneck. Hardneck garlic is valued for complexity of flavor, fares well in cooler climes and has a shorter storage life.
Scapes, the edible green stalks shooting out of the middle of garlic plants, likely come from hardneck garlic. They curl at the top like a pig's tail, and have a tip resembling the onion dome of a Russian orthodox church. Cutting off the scape sends more nutrition to the garlic in the ground, though if the scape is not cut, the tip forms bulbils, or flowers, also edible. Until recently scapes were discarded or became compost material, but they have moved into our CSA boxes and onto restaurant menus. Scapes can be eaten raw, grilled or sautéed and make a delicious ingredient anywhere you might add garlic.
Next in the spring, we enjoy "green" or young garlic, pulled from the ground before the cloves are well formed. Green garlic is mild compared to mature garlic and cooks showcase it in custards and in generous quantities.
In Utah this month, garlic is mature and being harvested or cured; it needs to cure for three to four weeks before storage. It's these cloves that go into the ground in the fall for next year's harvest, like individual tulip bulbs. Each clove begets a multi-cloved bulb head.
This time of year I make gazpacho, a cold soup of Spanish origin, with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and garlic. If there are more than 10 garlic varieties in the world, there are thousands of gazpacho recipes, variations on the hot weather and summer harvest theme.
Because tomatoes are not in the mix, this recipe is untraditional. But it does have a good dose of garlic. If you hit a clove of garlic with the side of chef's knife, the skin will loosen and make it easy to peel.
Green & White Gazpacho
3 cloves garlic,
(peeled and crushed)
3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small green pepper
2 green onions, chopped
2 tbs. chopped fresh basil, cilantro or parsley
2 cups cold vegetable broth
2 cups plain yogurt
2 to 3 tbs. sherry wine vinegar or fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, red or gold, cut in tiny wedges
Fresh basil, cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish
Put the garlic, half of the cucumbers, green pepper, green onions, basil and vegetable broth in a blender and puree until smooth. Add the remaining cucumbers and puree. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the yogurt, vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Chill until cold. Serve garnished with the tomatoes, and more green onions and fresh herbs.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.