Smile Politely

Farm-to-Table Recipes: Green Garlic

Whenever I see produce I don’t recognize, I buy it and figure out how to use it. It’s a game for me that started years ago with the cherimoya. As you might imagine, some experiments turn out better than others. So when I saw something that looked like a bunch of overgrown, discolored green onions or undersized leeks at the Moraine View Farms vendor table this past weekend at the last Prairie Fruits Farm breakfast, I had to ask. It was green garlic.

The young, bulbless garlic shoots originally made their way to tables as farmers weeded out the weaker garlic shoots most unlikely to produce large bulbs. Good farmers, like good chefs, waste nothing. Once the product caught on with consumers and demand rose, farmers like Phillip Swartz of Moraine View Farms in East Central Illinois started planting a softneck variety of garlic specifically designed to harvest as green garlic.

Swartz, a sixth generation farmer, reminded me that the outside of the green garlic will start getting too tough in the next few weeks to sell or consume, but other options will become available as the season progresses. “Garlic scapes will be the next fresh garlic crop before the bulbs mature,” he said, and some recipes that work with green garlic also work with garlic scapes, like pesto. Next week, he’ll be selling green garlic and other produce at the Urbana Farmer’s Market.

Here are a few recipes to get you started with green garlic.

The first comes from a professional, Chef Michael Miller of Bacaro, who shared the secret of his salsa verde that currently accompanies at least one dish on their menu. I tried this at Bacaro, and the balanced — not too spicy, not too tart, not too garlicky — salsa perfectly complemented the pan-roasted fish it was served with.

Green Garlic Salsa Verde
Chef Michael Miller

4 oz. green garlic (about 15 pieces), blanched and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Blend first four ingredients in a blender, slowly adding olive oil until desired consistency is reached. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve with grilled or pan-roasted fish, chicken, or grilled vegetables.

My personal foray into the world of green garlic included grilled green garlic and a recipe relayed by Michelle Thoms, a friend of Swartz, for what I’m calling green garlic parmesan spread.  While my grill master, Charley, fired up the grill for the first time this season, I prepped the rest of our garlic-laden feast. With two green garlic sides, I wanted to make sure the whole plate wasn’t too overwhelming in flavor.

For the grilled garlic, I rightly assumed that the grill would tone down the garlic flavors, as roasting a whole head of garlic does. My first attempt at the grilled green garlic was not a complete success, because we left the green garlic on the grill long enough to make sure it was tender, which also unfortunately ensured that it burned a bit. (This is the experimentation part.) So I got a tip from chef and owner of Bacaro, Thad Morrow, to blanch the green garlic before grilling, which will make outside tender instead of tough. The recipe reflects the adjustment, but, alas, the photos do not.

Grilled Green Garlic
1 bunch green garlic, washed and trimmed
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Blanch until tender and shock in cold water to retain color. Pat dry, toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill.

As for the green garlic parmesan spread, Thoms didn’t give me any quantities or tell me which part of the green garlic to use, so I estimated, and you can adjust the proportions to your taste. I used only the less pungent garlic green tops in the spread to exaggerate the bright color and keep the garlicky flavor within reason, given the rest of our course. You could use the entire piece, but fewer of them, since the root end is more pungent.

Green Garlic Parmesan Spread
3 oz. Parmesan
5 oz. butter (If refrigerated, let it sit out for 15 minutes)
green garlic, top of eight or ten pieces
salt (if needed)

Place Parmesan in food processor and process until chopped. Add butter and green garlic. Process until mixture is blended completely. Add salt if needed.

I admit it. It was so good that by the time we were finished eating, I found myself sneaking dollops of the green garlic parmesan spread to put on the steak and the potatoes, too. Nothing livens classic meat and potatoes quite like butter, cheese, and garlic. The only thing I didn’t put the garlic spread on was the grilled green garlic, which clearly needed no additional garlic.

This weekend, pick up some green garlic at the Farmer’s Market and experiment. Try pesto, soups (with a vegetable base like spinach or potato), or gratins. If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, but want to explore this or other well-prepared local foods, visit Bacaro.

Moraine View Farms will attend the Urbana Farmer’s Market in the Lincoln Square Mall Parking Lot every week, starting this Saturday, May 5.

Bacaro is located at 113 N. Walnut in Champaign.

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