Some people cannot wait for the first onslaught of strawberries. Some watch the first asparagus arrive with delight (and a lot of them seem to be writing about it lately...). For me, it's something that I didn't even know existed when I first moved to France: fresh garlic. They may have this in the Chicago suburbs somewhere, but I never saw it when I was growing up. Wow. Ever since I first tried non-dried, fresh from the soil, juicy and fragrant fresh garlic I have been a complete convert. I use the dried stuff in 90% of my cooking the year round, but I am always secretly dreaming of the spring, when the real stuff will finally arrive.
Am I the only one to have survived some 26 years on this planet before discovering the joys of fresh garlic? Why did my friend Tom (who grew up near the garlic growing capital of the world and is the highest consumer of the stuff I know) never tell me about fresh garlic? Was it a conspiracy? I don't know, but I'm happy to have made its acquaintance now.
Fresh garlic has a more subtle flavour than the dried variety. You can enjoy it raw as easily as cooked. It's almost impossible to add too much to a dish. Peeling is no longer a chore, as the outer layers of the bulb are just as soft and juicy as the clove in the center of them. In fact, it's hard to say where the outer layers end and the clove begins (as you can see here), but you don't need to distinguish because it's all good to eat. I have heard tell that roasted fresh garlic is much, much better than the normal stuff. But I have never managed to find out because I cannot bear to risk ruining the delicate flavour. Perhaps some day I'll have a starting-to-dry head that I can use to experiment. This seems unlikely, though, as the season is short and I use them up quickly. Yesterday, we used nearly have a head on two simple pasta dishes (his and hers): a sausage, tomato, roasted onions and fresh garlic sauce for him, and a simple dish of sliced garlic gently softened in butter over a low heat and spread on spaghetti with freshly grated parmesan and pepper (hers). I came out ahead, I can tell you.
And tonight? Maybe a few slivers on those spears of asparagus that are starting to appear. (Yes, I love them too!) Or they might find their way into a crispy salad with ripe tomatoes and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. They might get slipped in between the leaves of an artichoke or two just before they are put in the steamer. Whatever happens, you can be sure they will be enjoyed to the utmost. If only my supply holds out until the weekend, when I can go to the market for some more...
A Few Sites about Garlic
I have tried sowing garlic with only moderate success so far, though now that I have a large terrace we'll be trying again in the fall. For tips on growing garlic (and a source to buy garlic products) try this site.
For information about the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, held the 23-25th July 2004, click here.
For a story about fifteen people dying when a shelf of garlic collapsed (what a way to go!) read here.
And then there is the International Garlic Information Centre.