If you are of a certain age, over about 40 or 45 perhaps, you may remember a time when it was not easy to buy fresh garlic. Good supermarkets offered it, packed in yellow cardboard boxes with plastic windows that revealed two small, sad bulbs inside. It would be many years before piles of garlic bulbs were just about everywhere.
Now we have so much garlic that it can be hard to keep up, especially during the spring when green garlic, garlic scapes and fresh garlic cycle through in rapid succession.
The season for green garlic and garlic scapes is winding down and it won’t be long before fresh garlic is just a memory, too, until next year. But there is a bit of time. Farmers market vendors have piles of fresh garlic on their tables.
What is fresh garlic, exactly?
When a garlic bulb is first harvested, its outer skin is soft and pliable, the membrane that separates cloves is moist, and the cloves themselves are quite juicy. It’s got a fair amount of garlic’s traditional heat but very little of the earthy quality it takes on as it cures.
It cooks more quickly, because of all the water it contains. Any garlic will quickly give up its moisture to the atmosphere so when you have fresh garlic, it is a good idea to use it right away and not forget about it in your pantry.
Green garlic is the first garlic of the year that we enjoy. It is garlic before the bulb begins to form and resembles scallions, though it is easy to tell them apart: Scallions have thin hollow stalks; garlic stalks are flat.
A garlic scape is the flower stalk produced by hardneck garlics. Left on the plant, the scape will eventually form a bulb that can be planted, but this results in the plant drawing nutrients from the main bulb. Most people who grow garlic for the bulb typically cut off the scapes. They were once tossed onto the compost but are now devoured wherever garlic is grown. You’ll find them at local farmers markets.
The final stage of garlic before it is cured for aging is fresh garlic, a stage that is often overlooked because its name is misunderstand. “Fresh garlic” means, to most of us, whatever you buy in the produce section of a market or at a farmers market.
But the garlic that is sold in markets year round has been cured, which is to say, aged in a cool, dry area, which is what gives it its shelf life. Fresh garlic is garlic that has not gone through this process, and it is absolutely delicious.
For other fresh garlic recipes, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Sopa de Ajo is a classic soup found throughout much of Spain. There are countless variations but the basics — garlic, eggs, bread — are essentially the same. Some versions are light and make a great first course. This one is both full-flavored and filling, perfect for dinner on a warm summer night when we still have fresh young garlic. You can make the soup with cured garlic at any time of year but it will have a deeper, huskier flavor than this one.