New Kid on the Block
It's the time for new garlic...
What could possibly be so special about new garlic? Garlic is garlic... So you might think, but new garlic is like no other garlic you've ever tasted: it is sweet and mild, and its bite is nowhere near as bad as its bark. Some would even say that new garlic is not pungent; I wouldn't go that far, but it is very soft on the tongue, is pleasant eaten raw, and is wasted in any dish requiring long cooking times.
New garlic should be slivered thinly and fried briefly in some chili-olive oil, before being poured with a flourish over a platter of hot pasta, sprinkled with chopped flat parsley and a generous mound of grated Parmigiano: pasta al aglio è olio as it should be. If you are more in the mood for a tomato sauce with your pasta, add chopped new garlic at the very end with the fresh herbs. The remnant heat from the sauce will take the edge off the garlic without killing its flavour.
New garlic is sexy. Look at that shot! And I wasn't even trying: its skin is plump and white, moist and easy to peel, no knife is required: disrobe the head like you would a clementine, you don't even need to peel the individual cloves, smash them with your palm and they are ready to join the fray in your pan.
The season for new garlic is relatively short, two to three weeks, depending on the weather. Unlike regular, storing garlic, new garlic should be kept in the refrigerator, otherwise it will dry out. However, do not try to dry this garlic once you've brought it home, it is too young, it will not do; it is for eating as soon as possible. And do not look for it at the supermarket: its keeping qualities do not make it a good candidate for the produce aisle. Garlic growers are the only suppliers for this seasonal treat.
And while you're standing in front of the garlic seller, pick up some garlic scapes. They are the flower stalk, and are available during the same period as new garlic. Aren't they just a pretty sight with their bendy, curlicue necks? They would not be out of place in a vase with a few flowers. The whole stalk is edible, though the bottom end might need some peeling if it seems a little woody. Cut into 10cm (5") pieces, slivered in two, garlic blossoms can be sautéed or grilled like you would asparagus; they should not be fully cooked, but left a little crisp to be at their best. The blossom end can be removed and fried as a fritter for a most lovely garlicky deep-fried goodness.
Garlic scapes also make a beautifully green garlic paste when blended with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. It will not turn blue, like garlic purée sometimes does when in contact with salt, but will remain a vivid green. Use this paste as you would minced garlic - everywhere!
By the way, all the health benefits from garlic are due to its chemical compound allicin. Although this compound is more abundant in older, storing garlic, it is also present in new garlic. Allicin is what gives garlic its kick -and its pungency; garlic needs to be consumed raw to benefit your health. However, few of us really want to suffer -or subject our entourage to- the consequence of eating whole heads of raw garlic! For a health kick with less odoriferous side effects, eat a daily clove of raw new garlic while they are in season.