There are a few signs that spring is well and truly here.
*At last Saturday’s farmer’s market, there were baskets and baskets of local strawberries, so fragrant and crushable that they conjured up a voluptuous sponge cake, oozing luscious red juices, piled high with vanilla-scented whipped cream.
*Slender pork tenderloins from Elysian Field Farm, so tender and juicy that they needed only a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a rub with garlic and thyme, before a brief grilling over oak wood coals.
*And then there’s green garlic.
At the market there were heaps of green garlic—plump white bulbs with lanky leaves—laid out on checkered tablecloths. There was a faint whiff of garlic in the air, elusive but enticing. I inhaled and found myself scooping up a dozen stalks.
Stanley Crawford, New Mexico garlic farmer, novelist and author of A Garlic Testament, writes that it takes garlic 7 to 9 months to mature. For anxious growers, he warns: “One of the singular characteristics of garlic is that it makes you wait….It follows that you ought not to grow garlic unless you are willing to let it make you as patient as it needs for its purposes.”
But if you can time it right, there’s nothing like green garlic to give you an early taste of the pungent allium to come—a tantalizing appetizer to summer’s main course.
What is green garlic exactly? In The Complete Book of Garlic, Ted Jordan Meredith defines it as garlic “that is harvested after it has developed into multicloved bulbs but before the bulb and clove skins have dried.”
Cut a cross section of an immature bulb—as if you were going to make a slide to view under a microscope—and you can see individual cloves within a creamy orb, formed but not separate from the flesh that surrounds them.
Meredith is not enthusiastic about green garlic, but I enjoy its fresh, mildly garlicky flavor. At this stage the bulb has not yet developed its pungent, sulphuric bite and while you might not want to eat it raw, cooked it develops a sweet, mellow taste.
In early May I always want to make green garlic soup. There are a lot of recipes on the web for such a soup, many of them using potatoes as a thickener or spinach to turn it green. But late last spring we were in Andalucia where I tasted cold white gazpacho made with almonds for the first time. It was heavenly. Why not make an almond and green garlic soup, I wondered.
Why not, indeed? Blanched almonds create a rich and creamy base, while the garlic, thinly sliced and sautéed, adds a fresh of flavor just slightly redolent of the mature bulb. Be sure to use enough early garlic to infuse the soup with its taste—7 or 8 good-sized bulbs with an inch or so of the white stalk (after you’ve removed the green leaves).
This delicate soup is even more delicious if you give it a savory lift by way of thick cut smoked bacon—I used Whole Foods Black Forest Dry Rubbed Bacon—and toasted Parmesan croutons. Then I added a few of the garlic chives that are just sprouting in the garden. Do you need more? Swirl in a sprinkle of smoked Spanish paprika, or a spoonful of flat leaf parsley, briefly blanched and pureed. Let your imagination run free—just don’t overwhelm the subtle taste of the garlic.
The soup is best served warm, but don’t plan on reheating it. Eat it at once, before the flavor evaporates into the cool, springtime air.
Green Garlic Soup with Almonds, Smoky Bacon and Parmesan
Serves four as an appetizer
7 or 8 plump heads of green garlic (If the garlic is small, use more.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups homemade chicken broth
¾ cup blanched almonds (see note)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
4 pieces thick cut smoked bacon (I used Whole Foods Black Forest Dry Rub Bacon.)
4 slices rustic white bread
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
12 garlic chives, or regular chives
Smoked Spanish paprika (optional)
1. Set the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut off the green tops of the garlic, leaving about 1 inch of white stem. Peel off the outer layer of skin, exposing the tender bulb. Using a sharp knife, cut each bulb and stem horizontally into slices about ¼ inch thick. Discard the green tops or save them to flavor another soup.
3. Heat a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add the olive oil and reduce the heat to low. Add the sliced garlic and gently sautee until it is soft, about 7 or 8 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
4. Pour in the chicken stock, raise the heat to medium and bring the stock to a slow simmer. Add the blanched almonds. Let the ingredients simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary, until the broth has absorbed the flavor of the garlic and the almonds are tender. Remove from the heat to a cool burner.
5. While the soup is simmering, cook the bacon in a pan until it is semi-crisp. Drain on paper towels. Then make the croutons: Using a 1-1/2 inch cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds from the sliced bread. Place them on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven 7 or 8 minutes until they are crisp but not brown. Turn, brush the tops with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan each. Return to the oven and bake until they are just beginning to turn brown and the cheese is bubbling. Remove from the oven and set aside.
6. When the soup has cooled slightly, ladle half of it into the container of the blender. Cover and blend first on low and then on high speed, firmly holding the top in the place to prevent eruptions, until the soup is smooth and creamy. Don’t worry if the almonds aren’t totally pulverized—a little texture is OK.
7. Pour the warm soup into 4 small bowls. Place 2 croutons into each bowl and top with 1 piece of bacon that has been cut into small diagonal slices and 2 or 3 chives. Sprinkle with smoked paprika if desired. Serve at once.
Note: To blanch whole almonds, place them in a medium heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over them, just to cover. Let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the skins can be slipped off easily.