Owen Pidgeon: Early-season garlic tips for use in Canberra kitchens

Owen Pidgeon
Young spring garlic is delicious when added to soups or pasta.
Young spring garlic is delicious when added to soups or pasta. Photo: Getty Images

All the late winter rains have given gardeners some challenges. If we have fruit trees that have become somewhat waterlogged, we have needed to dig drains around them to prevent the trees from dying. So, too, we have needed to ensure that our autumn-winter plantings of vegetables and herbs have not been swamped. 

Garlic is one of those plants that has been growing through the winter months. It is amazing that the leaves could grow so well when the frosty nights were so common. We now have some garlic plants with leaves that are 40-45 centimetres high. There is still a long way to go before the bulbs develop and the plant dries out in the hot suns of early summer.

Some of our garlic cloves were quite small and so they would not produce a very big bulb at the end of the run. However, we planted all the cloves out, planting the smaller ones quite close to produce spring garlic.

Spring garlic, sometimes called green garlic or just garlic shoots, is the term applied to immature garlic when the bulb is just beginning to form up but is still about the size of a small marble. You will pull up and use the whole garlic plant. The bulb is not much wider than the leaves. In early springtime, the leaves are still mild and sweet but do also have the distinctive garlic taste.

In Europe, farmers would often thin out their garlic crop and deliver these thinnings to the market, rather than throwing away good product. The green stems with their very immature bulbs can fill a real gap between last season's stored bulbs and the first harvests of the new season crops.

Chefs who have worked in European establishments have seen how this early maturing delicacy can add much to seasonal dishes in early springtime. It can be used in salads and stir fries in the same way as spring onions and shallots are used.

Seek out spring garlic that still has its roots attached (and if you are harvesting your own, leave the soil around the roots until you are ready to use the plants. This will keep things as fresh as possible. By wrapping spring garlic in a damp paper towel and placing it in a vegetable fresh plastic bag, you can store it for 10-12 days.

Finely chop the leaves and cook in a small amount of butter or olive oil. The garlic can then be added into soups or to pasta. Our student helper from France loves to saute garlic as an ingredient to add to rice cooking. Spring garlic can be used for just about any recipe that includes the mature garlic bulb but with its less intense flavour you may need to use somewhat more than just the equivalent of one or two cloves.

Spring garlic soup.

Photo: Getty Images

Spring garlic soup

8 spring garlic

1 bunch spring onions

40g butter

3 cups chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp cayenne pepper

salt and black pepper

Trim off any tips of the garlic leaves that look weathered and also roots of the plants. Chop up the remaining parts of the leaves and the small bulbs. In a heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and saute the garlic and onion until translucent. Add the chicken stock, thyme and cayenne then cook on a low heat for 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and puree in a blender. Garnish with freshly chopped chives when serving.

This week in the garden

* Plant seeds of lettuces, radishes, rocket and beetroot. Also consider planting a selection of Asian greens including mizuna and pak choi.

* Plant out a garden bed of carrots, selecting from the short stubby varieties and the slower growing, long varieties.

* Dig over a garden bed in preparation for planting out your potatoes.

* Turn your compost with a garden fork and make sure that there is sufficient moisture throughout the heap to generate necessary heat to aid the decomposition process.

* Where newly planted trees are not well protected from strong winds, consider hammering two wooden or metal stakes and tying across with twine, to provide support.

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.