Fresh, fresh garlic is available at farmers markets in late July and early August. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

There is fresh garlic. And there is fresh, fresh garlic.

Most cooks are familiar with the former. That’s the kind you store in a cool, dry place all year long. Cooks may grapple a bit with the cloves’ papery skin and take care to remove the bitter green germ that sprouts from them if the head of garlic has been sitting too long in said cool, dry place.

Fewer cooks are familiar with the latter, though. That said, at this time of year in Maine, they should be looking to get their hands on some. Fresh, fresh garlic is the just-harvested heads of the hard neck, cold weather varieties Maine famers pull from the soil in early August. The heads are mature with big, juicy cloves. In France, this iteration of the crop is called ail frais (fresh garlic) or ail nouveau (new garlic). It’s different from green garlic, which are simply young garlic plants, harvested in late spring when they are the size of  scallions. And like scallions, those young shoots can be chopped and eaten raw in salads and omelets and sprinkled on top of baked potatoes and into soups.

In Maine, new garlic hits the farmers markets after scapes in July but before cured, fresh garlic does in September. Curing is a process that entails chopping off all but a couple inches of the garlic plant’s stalk, spreading the heads out in a single layer in an airy spot, and letting them dry out for a month or so.

At Whatley Farm in Bowdoinham, farmers lay out most of the freshly harvested and trimmed heads of garlic they harvest on racks in a greenhouse covered with partial-shade cloth and run fans almost constantly to keep the air flowing over them. When the necks are completely dry, usually after 4-5 weeks, they trim the cured garlic closer to the bulbs and store them in the barn to be sold throughout the fall and winter. But they do, indeed, sell some of the fresh, fresh stuff.

“We offer fresh garlic because we like to use it with summer vegetables ourselves,” said Ben Whatley, and because the demand for local garlic is strong while customers wait months for the local crop to come in. “Garlic scape pesto helps to bridge the gap, but it is still exciting to get a nice bulb of garlic in late July” (and early August.

Advertisement

I totally agree. I bought six! At $15/pound for these organic alliums, it’s not an inexpensive treat, but the flavor is subtle and vibrant, and a perfect match for summer season vegetables from green peas and yellow beans to new potatoes and fresh tomatoes. And you can use every part of the product to both avoid food waste and help justify the cost.

As I do with most farmers market produce, I prep fresh garlic as soon as I get it home lest I push it to the back of the crisper and forget about it.

The stalks get tossed into the freezer to be used in stock. You can use the thick ribbed skin that encloses the cloves like the light green parts of a leek, slicing them into thin strips and cooking them in butter or oil until they are very crispy. When you separate the cloves from one another you’ll see they are wrapped in a thin, fleshy, waxy membrane. I pull those open to get at the cloves.

While the cloves are the prize, the membranes can be quickly simmered in water until just soft, drained well and whizzed in a blender with an equal amount of olive oil, some lemon juice and a pinch of salt. The result is a lovely condiment that is just as happy riding on a turkey sandwich as it is as the sidekick to a charred crudité platter.

I keep the cloves in a jar on an eye-level refrigerator shelf (again, so I don’t forget about them) and use them up in the coming week. Typically, I’ll mince a few cloves at a time, adding them raw to salads and pasta dishes or tossing them into bowls of steamed vegetables with butter, salt and pepper. I also slice them thinly and cook them in olive oil until golden, eating a few in the kitchen, before scattering them over a plate of sliced tomatoes as a crunchy counterpoint.

Summer vegetables and fresh garlic skins make a delightful crudite. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

CHARRED VEGETABLE CRUDITÉ WITH NEW GARLIC SKIN SPREAD

Advertisement

You can char the veggies anyway you please. I’ve grilled them here to keep the temperature in my kitchen tolerable. But you can just as easily toss them into a smoking hot cast iron pan or spread them out on a sheet pan and slide them under a broiler. The effect you’re shooting for are vegetables that have a bit of char but still hold their shape enough to be finger food.

Serves 6-8

Skins of 20 new garlic cloves (from about 4 heads)
Olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt
2 pounds mixed summer vegetables, such as green and wax beans, carrots, small beets, small zucchini and summer squash, bell or shishito peppers

Place skins in small pan. Cover with water. Place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Drain well and pat dry. Use a kitchen scale to weigh the skins. Place skins, an equal weight olive oil and the lemon juice in a blender and process until smooth. Push  the dip through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any fibers. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.

Trim or cut vegetables to be ½- to 1-inch wide and 4- to 5-inches long. Toss them in olive oil and salt to taste. Preheat a grill to medium high. Carefully place the vegetables on the grill. Cook them without turning until they are slightly charred on one side but still kind of crunchy, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Cool to room temperature and serve with new garlic sauce.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.