It might officially be summer now but you can still find some of the best spring produce at farmers’ markets. Rhubarb is still making a showy appearance from a few vendors at the Wooster Square Farmers Market (and needless to say I’m buying it up in bulk—more to come). Flowering bundles of scallion, fresh peas and their shoots, and even green spring garlic and scapes are still available.
I had every intention of planting garlic last fall—enough for a spring harvest of green garlic and a later one once they’re developed—but unfortunately I waited too long and the supplier was out of stock for the season. As usual though, I somehow neglected to pull up a plant form last year so I have a rogue garlic plant in the herb garden. Despite my burning urge to pull it up a few weeks ago, I convinced myself, and continue to still, to leave it in the ground so that it matures, and I can plant the cloves in the fall. This is one of those moments where I actually can exercise delaying gratification. Plus, I still get scapes.
Luckily for me, though, I happened upon some green garlic at the farmers market. You really can have your cake and eat it, too. Is that the lesson here? I don’t know. I don’t care. I have risotto. The world can’t get to me now.
Green garlic is to garlic as scallions are to onions; a gentler, but still flavorful counterpart. Garlic is grown by planting an individual clove in the ground, usually around fall. The clove sets roots and eventually sends a green shoot up above the dirt (if you’ve ever seen green sprouts poking out of your garlic from wrongfully storing them in the fridge, picture that, but underground). That sprout develops into a plant, and that single clove underground grows into a full head of garlic. When garlic is ready for harvest usually a few layers of leaves on the plant are dried and dead which, underground, becomes the papery skin around the garlic. Green garlic is a young garlic plant that hasn’t fully developed; the underground clove has grown into something that from the outside resembles a head of garlic, but still hasn’t developed individual cloves. A few inches up the plant, the stem is tender enough to be eaten and full of flavor. Even the leaves, though very fibrous, have a hint of allium to them. The real flavor is packed in the bulb and a few inches up the stem, where you get a clean garlic flavor—less sulfuric, less acrid and stinging—that’s more of a whisper than a shout.
Scapes are the corkscrew stems that come out of the center of the plant that eventually bloom into “flowers” (bulbils). As with the rest of the plant that grows above ground, as it matures it becomes tougher and tougher before reaching the point of being inedible. In the early stages, though, the stem itself is fantastic—garlic, herbaceous and vegetal. When they’re very young, having just developed, they can be treated like scallions or chives, used uncooked. As they mature and become more fibrous they need a little cooking to become tender again. More often than not, they end up sautéed in butter with mushrooms for pasta here (last year it was pappardelle with chanterelles from the Yale farmers market—wow).
For this risotto though I really wanted the verdant green garlic to be the star so I kept it simple. Normally with any risotto that I make I use vegetable or chicken stock, but weaken it with some water; something about the starches that the Arborio rice releases makes a risotto made solely out of stock taste and feel like gravy to me. This time I did something a little different, though. All the scraps from the green garlic—root, outer layer of the stem, leaves, tough bits from the scape, you name it—went into a pot of water and simmered, along with a Parmigiano rind, to make a very light broth. In addition to these scraps, I threw in some tough, woody ends of asparagus that I had stashed in the freezer (I don’t have the heart to throw them out). They’re too tough to eat, and frankly by the time they’ve simmered long enough for the fibers to break down the flesh is total mush. What better use way to use them up than make a broth from them? The taste of the asparagus doesn’t really shine through in the risotto, but rather gives it a light delicate taste that doesn’t get in the way of the ethereal green garlic flavor, without being as bland and boring as using straight water. Nothing gets wasted (fitting, seeing as green garlic are really scraps themselves; they were pulled up early as a way to thin out rows of garlic on farms). If you don’t have any asparagus ends though I wouldn’t worry about it too much—maybe throw in another cheese rind for good measure.
Alright, that’s enough. Time is running out, and you need to go get some green garlic before it’s too late. Once you do, all you need is another very lucky person to indulge and enjoy this green garlic risotto with you. Or don’t share. I didn’t.
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