Even here in beautiful, year-round planted California, there are ebbs and flows at the markets. While citrus is overrunning the markets, vegetables often seem to be limited to variations on greens and cabbages. It's not that they're not worth eating–they're amazing–but soon the heart and palate start to yearn for summer's bounty.
The harbinger of spring, the first sign that fruit and vegetables are returning, is green garlic. Green garlic is just that–young garlic plants, usually culled in order to allow “normal” garlic to have the space to develop fully. The bulb resembles a larger scallion, with one single piece of flesh rather than the paper-wrapped cloves we use all year round. The stalk is slightly firmer than a scallion, and slightly thicker.
Pierce a freshly-dug mature garlic, and sharp, acrid, nearly clear juice
will run. Pierce a freshly-dug green garlic, and a milky sap will ooze
from the plant.
The odor of green garlic is quite strong, but the flavor is delicate,
and not nearly as strong as scallions. Green garlic has the bite of
cloven garlic tempered by an herbaceous, green flavor.
Use the whole plant; even the cut on the bottom won't be tough, as long
as the garlic is fresh. While the leaves are fibrous, they carry plenty
of flavor and can be simmered in stocks to lend a muted, understated
featured green garlic sautéed simply with pieces of smoky bacon. Green
garlic also makes an outstanding soup and–the Genovese will want to look
away now–a floral, tender pesto. Since basil is not in season at the
same time as green garlic, use a winter green such as spicy arugula or
Bloomsdale spinach for a riff on the northern Italian sauce.
Look for perky stems, and look at the leaves: a couple of wilted, brown
leaves are perfectly normal, but if there are no healthy leaves, the
garlic may not be as fresh as it could be. It's trivially easy to peel
off a layer of dead leaves to reveal milky-white bulbs and fresh-looking
stems, so don't be fooled. If you see green bulbs at the top, you are
in for a treat: these are garlic scapes, which die off so quickly they
can hardly make it to the farmers' market in time, let alone a
Like most cool-weather crops, green garlic's availability moves north as
the date gets later; the current crop is coming from Imperial and San
Diego counties. Since the furthest-north vendors come from San Joaquin,
expect green garlic to stick around only for a month or so.