As summer solstice arrives, The garlic awakens


It happens each spring. You cut into a clove of garlic to find its lily-white interior tainted by the green stripe of a developing shoot. A few weeks later, sprouts emerge from the tips of every clove in the house, turning entire bulbs into Medusa heads.

During this period of garlic awakening, all cooks face a choice: They can either dig out the little plant or cook with it undaunted, knowing the verdant imperfection tastes exactly like the bulb that hosts it.

Some aspiring garlic growers fall under the spell of a sprouted clove and decide to plant the little guy in the dirt. The math of garlic propagation dictates that every planted clove will turn into a full bulb, so why not?

Alas, sprouted garlic sown in the springtime won’t bulb. The clove must overwinter in the dirt. Planted in the fall, it will sense the moist earth and send out roots, then hibernate through the winter. When we see that green stripe in the garlic clove on the cutting board, we know the cloves in the garden are waking up, too.

Fast forward to the present moment: The garlic I planted last fall is now producing delicious shoots called scapes, curly stems with pointy, flowerlike tips that emerge from the center of the plant around the summer solstice.

If you have plans to plant your own garlic this fall, now is the perfect time to plot your patch. Going to the farmers market in search of scapes to eat is an important first step in finding your source for the seed garlic you’ll plant in October.

“Seed garlic” is just regular garlic that’s certified to be disease-free and of a particular variety. One advantage of getting your seed garlic locally is you can see for yourself how well it holds up in your climate.

Where I live, Romanian red is the garlic to grow. The cloves are big, easy to peel, not too spicy and very tasty. If you want to try a specific kind of garlic, ordering it online is your best bet. But you should order soon. Many of the popular varieties, like Romanian red, will sell out before they’re even harvested.

I recommend buying garlic from Filaree Farm in central Washington because its founder, Ron Engeland, wrote “Growing Great Garlic,” the only reference you need for garlic cultivation. I didn’t get my Romanian red from Engeland, but rather, we both got it from the same source: Idaho’s late, great Jack Ronniger, keeper of the best garlic and potato strains.

One of my favorite things to do with garlic, be it bulb, sprout or scape, is to make toum, an aioli-like sauce of garlic, salt and olive oil. Even though it’s mostly garlic and thus quite strong, toum is so maddeningly delicious that you’ll want to spread it everywhere.

Since I currently have shopping bags full of scapes, I’ve been making toum from those. It freezes well in theory, although in practice, it doesn’t seem to last long enough to get frozen.

Scape toum

This assertive green paste makes a great spread, filling or ingredient. The nuts and parsley add a rich thickness and grassy fragrance, making it something of a cross between pesto and romesco sauce.

Scapes have more fiber than bulb garlic, so they take longer in the blender. But with patience, the scape toum will emulsify just like bulb toum.

Serves 10

1 cup almonds
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups chopped scapes
2 cups olive oil
1 cup chopped parsley
Zest and juice of half a lemon

Pulse the almonds in a blender until they’re crushed. Add the scapes and salt and blend again, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the first cup of olive oil a little at a time, again scraping the sides as necessary. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and parsley and blend until the parsley disappears. The second cup of oil is optional. The paste will loosen as you add it and then, surprisingly, thicken even more.

You can also skip the almonds for a smoother, creamier final product. In that case, cut the salt in half and stop at a single cup of oil.

Spread toum on anything that moves. Wrap it in romaine leaves with chunks of feta. Refrigerate or freeze the unused portions.



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