The season for garlic has arrived, and I’m just as excited to cook with this stinky bulb as I am about the peaches and tomatoes of summer. Did you know garlic has a season? It’s an allium, like chives and onions; a bulb planted in October for harvest the following summer. Those wrinkled, acrid heads of garlic offered in grocery stores during winter are a very sad representation of glorious summer garlic, which is juicy, slightly sweet, and pleasantly pungent – never bitter or acrimonious. The best specimens of mature garlic are harvested throughout summer and early fall. As the weather cools and winter sets in, the precious sugars in the garlic plant are converted for energy, causing the bulbs to taste acidic and increasingly bitter. Enjoy summer garlic while it lasts, using it raw for fresh, piquant flavor, or roasting the heads to amplify their inherent sweetness. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday, and you’ll find plenty of creative recipes for cooking with garlic during summer here at la Domestique.
If you can, get your garlic from the local farmer’s market, where it’s likely just been harvested and traveled only a short distance. Otherwise, garlic from California seems to be just arriving at the grocery store this very moment. Look for firm, hard bulbs and store them in a cool, dry location with good air circulation (they will keep for weeks). Never store garlic in the fridge, a harsh environment that will turn bulbs mealy and dull their flavor.
It’s best to prep garlic just when you’re ready to cook with it, because once cut into, the bulb oxidizes, and its flavor rapidly changes from sweet and pungent to sharp and acrid. Reading The Produce Bible, I learned the volatile compound responsible for the strong, lingering flavor is called allinase, an enzyme released when garlic cloves are cut into. When adding garlic to dishes, the finer it’s chopped, the more allinase is released, the stronger its flavor. A crushed garlic clove will impart mild garlic flavor to a dish, while minced garlic results in strong, heady garlic flavor. Also, the Italians like use whole crushed garlic cloves in dishes so diners can easily spot the clove and remove it if garlic isn’t their thing. Heat disables allinase, so the longer garlic is cooked, the more mild its flavor.
I encourage you to seek out heirloom varieties of garlic at your local farmer’s market, and don’t be afraid of this bulb’s brash personality. Embrace the bold flavor of summer garlic in your kitchen, pairing it with vibrant summer vegetables and rustic, freshly baked bread. This week at la Domestique is dedicated to garlic, and I’m excited to cook in the moment with you!