I think it’s underappreciated that garlic is as seasonal as any other vegetable. Sure, you can obtain it throughout the year, and personally I’m never without it, but the great dishes of sheer garlic debauchery- aioli, roasted garlic, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, etc.- were designed to be made with fresh garlic, the kind you harvest in early summer, before it develops the slight (sometimes pronounced) acridness that comes with storage.
I grow three kinds of garlic, and one of them is Chinese Pink, which I get from Territorial Seeds. It’s a nicely flavored hardneck type, and I grow it because it matures fully a month earlier than any other garlic that I’ve grown.
See my earlier posts on green garlic and using the scapes of hardneck garlic for other uses of the maturing garlic plant, but by June the Chinese Pink is mature and I’m ready for some garlic confit. The confit process involves long, slow cooking at low heat in fat, olive oil in this case. The result is soft, mellow, and intensely flavorful without the sharp punch of raw garlic. It will keep in the refrigerator for a good long time as long as you make sure the cloves are well covered with oil.
Click here for the recipe!
Having grown your garlic, the next step is to catch your olive oil. I like Ybarra Extra Virgin from Spain, which I buy in pretty 5-liter cans from The Spanish Table in Santa Fe. It’s my house oil for cooking and confiting.
Next, peel a quart’s worth of garlic cloves. The skin of Chinese Pink is very tight, especially when fresh, and the cloves are very difficult to peel in quantity. So I always separate the cloves and drop them a small handful at a time into boiling water, wait 5-10 seconds, then scoop them out with a big Asian strainer. Cut the root end off each clove with a sharp paring knife, and the skin can now be slipped off with your fingers. Do be aware that your homegrown garlic will have actual dirt on the skins, unlike the pristine heads in grocery stores, so when you’re done skinning the cloves, wash them in a strainer and rub them lightly in your hands to remove any remaining dirt.
Once you have your quart of peeled cloves, put them in a saucepan with a teaspoon or two of sea salt and enough olive oil to cover them by at least one inch. More oil is better, since there are lots of uses for the flavored oil. Cook over very low heat, using a heat diffuser if needed, for about 90 minutes. Start checking after an hour, and turn the heat down if you see the pan bubbling vigoroously at any point. A slow simmer is what you want. Start checking after one hour. To test, scoop out one clove and after cooling it a minute, try to mash it between your fingers. You want the cloves to look whole in the pot, but mash readily with light pressure, with no hard core. When that stage is reached, spoon the cloves carefully into a clean quart canning jar, pour in oil to fill the jar, cover, and cool. Once cool, it can store in the refrigerator for a long time. Don’t keep it at room temperature. Any leftover oil should be saved to flavor salad dressings and aioli. Scoop out the cloves to smear on grilled bread (a favorite summer snack), season pasta, enrich sauces, or in general to use wherever a mellow, sweet flavor of garlic will enhance a dish.
This pasta is a good quick summer dinner:
For 2 very generous servings or 4 first-course servings:
1/2 lb. whole wheat linguine
6-8 cloves garlic confit, depending on size.
1/3 cup oil from confitted garlic
2 anchovy fillets, chopped to a paste, or 1 tablespoon colatura, or a generous pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup best Parmesan, grated
Cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water. While it is cooking, mash the garlic in a small bowl with a spoon, and stir in the oil, anchovies or colatura or salt, and the chile flakes. When the pasta is cooked to your taste (personally I like whole wheat pasta cooked a minute longer than white pasta), drain it but reserve half a cup of the cooking water. Return the linguine to the pan, stir in the garlic mixture, adda little of the reserved water if the sauce seems too dry, and toss in the cheese. Serve immediately on hot plates with a little extra cheese if desired.