Before you write this year off, clear some space in the garden or allotment and order some onion sets and garlic to grow your own. Both onions and garlic can be planted in autumn; garlic in particular needs a prolonged period of cold weather (at least a month at 10°C). It’s a great idea to grow your own garlic, mainly because it is encouraging to have something in the ground over winter. Planted in late October or early November, the individual cloves will show their first green shoots in mid winter at a time when little else is growing. Plus, it’s delicious. Below you’ll find ideas to use garlic in recipes and recommended cultivars to grow for maximum flavour.
Garlic is divided into soft- and hard-neck varieties. Most of what you buy in the shops will be soft-neck (the top will be soft and papery) but many consider that hard-neck varieties (which make a flowering spike) have a stronger, more truly garlicky flavour. For a bigger bulb, cut the flowering head when it emerges.
When you grow your own crop you can harvest it and use it at every stage of its growth, from the first green shoots snipped to add zest to winter soups, tarts and risottos, to green or ‘wet’ garlic harvested first as a green stem, with a white bulbous root streaked with colour around the size of a slim baby leek in spring.
How to grow garlic
With tips just below the surface. plant individual cloves 15cm apart in rows 23cm apart in late October or early November.
In general, garlic is a relatively problem-free crop – just keep them weed-free, run a hoe down the row now and again and give them a bit of wood ash and bone meal in March. Make sure you harvest your garlic before the bulbs start to split, start checking a month or so before harvest time by digging one up now and again (don’t be tempted to pull them like onions as the bulb usually snaps off and stays underground).
Recommended garlic cultivars
To guarantee cloves that are free from virus it’s best to source your garlic bulbs from a seed merchant rather than the supermarket.
- ‘Germidour’ – A traditional early cultivar ready in June. Great for freeing up space for other crops.
- ‘Cristo’ – White head with pale red clove skins.
- ‘Arno’ – White head with pink cloves.
- ‘Moraluz’ – A Spanish garlic with very red clove skins.
- ‘Iberian Wight’
- ‘Carcassonne Wight’
- ‘Lautrec Wight’
- ‘Green’ – Has an aromatic, mild flavour.
Where to buy seed garlic
Send an sae to the address below for a list of varieties: Garfield Villa, Belle Vue Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1JP.
Tel 01453 750371
Recipe ideas for garlic
Garlic becomes harsher the longer it is stored so recipes that call for a lot of raw garlic are best attempted when the crop is fresher, in the summer months.
Uses for ‘Green’ garlic
‘Green’ can be used in soufflés, soups and sauces; take two or three bulbs and stuff them whole inside a roast chicken to add a delicate, long flavour (later, whole fat bulbs can be baked).
Green garlic with baby globe artichokes
One of the nicest ways to eat green garlic is with baby globe artichokes. Cook them alla Romana, the heads peeled and trimmed and braised upside down in lemon juice, olive oil and water with chopped green garlic and mint packed in around them, the lid is taken off for the final few minutes resulting in crisp golden caramelised bottoms.
Chorizo and artichoke soup
Green garlic also makes a good sloppy soup of chopped fried chorizo and braised artichoke hearts and peas, topped off with a poached egg and served with toasted bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil.
Garlic lovers should try Ajo blanco, a cold soup from Andalucía in which garlic, bread, blanched almonds and either grapes or apples are blended with oil and sherry vinegar then chilled. It sounds weird but tastes wonderful.
For a simple garlic vinaigrette first infuse a good-quality, red wine vinegar with a peeled and smashed clove of garlic, for an hour. Then remove the clove and whisk with double the amount of olive oil until you have a creamy emulsion.
Simple green tomatoes:
Peel 4 cloves of garlic cut into matchsticks and fry in 100ml of oil until golden. Separately fry some green tomatoes and dress them with a vinaigrette seasoned with cumin and sugar and sumac, and serve the tomatoes scattered with mint leaves and the crisp garlic.
To really show off your garlic crop, tightly pack as many whole garlic bulbs as you can into an earthenware dish, push in a few sprigs of thyme and add a little oil, water and salt. Cover with foil and roast for 30-45 minutes in a medium oven, taking off the foil to brown. Squeeze the pulp on to sourdough bread and eat with some curd cheese.
Words Jojo Tulloh
Jojo’s book Modern Peasant looks at how some sort of self sufficiency can be experienced by city dwellers. It was the winner of the Fortnum & Mason Food Book of the Year Award 2014.
Illustration by Sarah Young