If you’ve ever tasted old, bitter garlic, you’ll appreciate fresh garlic’s vibrant flavor and juiciness. And early summer is garlic harvest time, so take advantage of the fresh stuff. Stored in a cool, dark, airy place, garlic can keep well for months, but it loses moisture over time, so the fresher it is when you use it, the better it will taste. At the market, look for firm heads with tight, multi-layered skin.
This time of year, avoid garlic with green shoots, a sign it’s likely leftover from the last harvest. Fresh garlic is so full of moisture that it actually cooks more quickly than older garlic. Use low, gentle heat and pay attention, because scorched garlic has an acrid odor and bitter taste. When sautéing or frying, add garlic after other ingredients have given off moisture. Rather than putting garlic on meat before grilling, I incorporate puréed garlic into a sauce or relish to put on after cooking. Or I make a marinade with smashed cloves or pieces that are big enough to wipe off before cooking.
Try a different cut
Thin slices or slivers of garlic are good for sautéing slowly in olive oil until golden. They make a great garnish for sautéed spinach.
Cut cloves in half to add to braises and broths. They release a little of their flavor while getting soft and tender, too.
Grate garlic to make an instant purée. I often use a rasp-style grater to grate garlic rather than mincing it.
Grind garlic in a mortar with a pinch of kosher salt, which yields a purée that’s perfect for adding to rustic sauces.
Three ways to cook a big batch of garlic
Oven-roasted heads of garlic, or individual cloves either simmered in oil or stewed in water or stock, are not only delicious on their own but also a handy ingredient to have on hand. Cooked cloves keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
Roast: Whole fresh garlic, with its high moisture content, is the best for roasting. Remove loose outer skins from the head and cut off the top to expose the cloves. Set in a baking dish or on foil, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 350°F until tender, about 45 minutes. Squeeze the cloves out when they’re cool enough to handle. You can also break apart garlic heads and roast individual cloves this way, too.
Simmer: My favorite way of cooking garlic is simmering it in olive oil, because it yields soft, buttery cloves and a bonus of garlic-infused oil. Put whole peeled cloves in a small heavy pan, add olive oil to cover, and simmer very gently over low heat until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Stew: Try baking or simmering unpeeled garlic cloves in a mixture of water or stock, oiland spices, covered, until tender. Peel and use the cloves as needed, or puree them all at once in a food mill, discarding the skins. This method yields garlic with a slightly more assertive, less mellow flavor.
Using cooked garlic
Using raw garlic
Rub an empty wooden salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic before tossing a salad in it. For a more assertive garlic presence, grate a clove into vinaigrette.
Make a terrific green mayonnaise for spreading on sandwiches. Using a mortar, grind a clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, and some chopped green herbs (basil, cilantro, mint, or a mixture) to a paste. Stir in some good-quality prepared mayonnaise, and add a grind of pepper and a dash of hot sauce.
Rub a slice of warm toasted bread with a clove of garlic for a great base for savory appetizers. Topping ideas: a slice of tomato and a basil leaf, chopped roasted vegetables, sautéed greens, chopped sautéed chicken livers, or fresh mozzarella.
For mashed potatoes with subtle garlic flavor, cook several peeled whole cloves of garlic along with the potatoes.
In the Garden
Garlic is easy to grow, but you’ll need to plan ahead. Order a tasty variety, such as Siberian, Georgian Crystal, Gypsy Red, or Persian Star. Plant individual skin-on cloves in the fall, five or six weeks before the ground freezes, 4 to 6 inches apart and 2 inches deep. (The bigger the clove, the bigger the head of garlic it’s likely to make.) When the ground gets cold, cover with mulch. In the spring, the garlic will start to grow (if the fall is warm and moist, it may sprout then; that’s fine). Fertilize with fish emulsion or liquid seaweed and water lightly during the growing season. Harvest when the lower two leaves turn yellow, but the rest of the leaves are still green. Store whole plants in a shaded, airy place for several weeks to let them cure. Then trim the tops and roots, brushing off any soil clinging to the bulb, but leave on the layers of dried skin to help preserve moisture.
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