Spaghettini with green garlic and oil

by Ben on April 27, 2010 · 16 comments

in Index, Italian, Noodles, Pasta, Vegetarian

Fellow lo-temp cooking freaks can rest assured that my suburban sous vide rig is up and fully operational. I have so far been using it to make perfectly cooked eggs, unconventionally moist chicken breast, and most recently, a smokeless pastrami. Descriptions of all will come in due time. But I have been meaning to post about green garlic, and given the rapidly changing season, I felt I should do so while it is still actually available.

I like garlic so much that I have to physically restrain myself from automatically tripling it in every recipe. I’ve had dishes in my life that, even for me, had too much garlic—but I can probably count them on one hand (for you Columbians: garlic chicken at the sadly departed La Rosita was one of them). When people make faux knee-slapping jokes about “making sure that we all have garlic” so as not to suffer from one’s bad breath, I profoundly don’t get it. Garlic smells good. It smells like food.

So I was myself surprised when it hit me one day that I had never actually worked with green garlic. I’ve heard people rhapsodize about the ingredient and it always sounded great to me, but I guess I never got around to it. Availability is generally limited to the first month or two of spring, so I was determined not to miss out this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar, most of the garlic we buy comes in the form of mature bulbs, which have been cured and stored dry. Green garlic refers to young garlic plants whose bulbs have not yet differentiated into cloves. When very young, they look more or less like green onions. As they mature, the stalks broaden, and they begin to resemble leeks. They are quite a bit more delicate in flavor than mature garlic, and can, in fact, be eaten raw with little discomfort. When cooked, they take on a nutty flavor, as well as a sweetness and texture one might expect from onions or leeks.

A couple weeks ago, I triumphantly returned from my local farmers market with bunches in hand. Problem was, most of the articles about green garlic I could find online mostly discussed the very young variety, of which the entire stalk can be used. Mine were of the leeky variety, and I wasn’t certain they could be used the same way. Much like leeks, the outer leaves and ends were very tough, and didn’t seem like they would cook down easily. I was reminded of a mishap I suffered years ago when making a caramelized leek soup. I hadn’t read the recipe carefully, and thus failed to realize that you don’t use the tough, dark green part. (That went a ways toward explaining why I couldn’t get it to caramelize.) At any rate, I consulted my sister (of course), and a couple of foodie friends. They also had never used the big, leeky green garlic. So I decided to wing it and treat them like leeks. I’ll give away the answer: Yes. They are awesome. Instructions below.

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There’s a fascinating book by photographer Melanie Dunea called “My Last Supper,” in which Dunea interviews 50 great chefs and asks:

If you were to die tomorrow, what single dish, what one mouthful of food from anywhere in the world or anytime in your life would you choose as your last? What would be your choice for your last meal on earth?

Being a food geek, I was much more interested in the answers than the accompanying portraits (though the pictures, admittedly, are stunning). They ranged from the ostentatious (e.g. Gary Danko) to the elegant (e.g. Nobu—I respect him enough to overlook his desire to listen to a Kenny G CD while eating it). My all-time favorite answer is the one from Eric Ripert, who wants toast with truffles. The reason is made clear in the recipe section at the end of the book (did I mention there are recipes?). He outlines in completely anal-retentive detail how to do everything, even down to the thickness of the bread (1.27 cm), percent acidity of the olive oil (0.3), and why you should use cold butter (so that it doesn’t soak into the bread—thank you!). If anything could cement my not-so-subtle man crush on Eric, it’s this recipe. I love how you can see exactly how much of a control freak this guy is.

Obviously, I’m not a chef. But in the make-believe world in which I’m shooting the shit with Eric Fucking Ripert, my last supper is definitely spaghettini with garlic and oil. I may post about it someday, but honestly I don’t get it right every time. When I figure out how to consistently make it work the way that it does when I have those last supper moments, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I felt that the most fitting treatment for my first green garlic experience should be a simple dish with pasta. What I made will not qualify for my last meal on earth. It will, however qualify for many meals between now and the end of May.

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Spaghettini with green garlic and oil

1/2 lb thin spaghetti (no. 11)
kosher or sea salt
2 – 3 C chopped green garlic (or about 2 of the big, leeky kind, trimmed and cleaned as described below)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
about 1/2 C beef stock (probably any stock would work here, as long as it doesn’t come from a can—I used beef because I had recently made it.)

Particularly in the Bay area, you can readily find green garlic at farmers markets or Whole Foods right now. I have regularly seen both the baby (green onion-looking) garlic, as well as the large, leekish ones. When scheduling your shopping and cooking, keep in mind that their flavors fade rapidly in the refrigerator. If possible, cook them on the same day. Otherwise, leave them, bulbs down, in a cup or vase of water in the refrigerator and deploy as soon as possible.

Trimming and preparing the green garlic Like I said, I got the bigger kind of green garlic. The first quandary that presented itself to me was: how much of  it should I use? As you can see above (and incidentally, you can click to zoom on any of the pictures in this blog), each plant consists of a bulb, a light green stalk, and darker green leaves alternating from the stalk. Many people, when encountering leeks of similar description, simply look for the border between pale green and dark green on the outside leaf, and make a single cut there through the entire plant. The problem with this strategy is that you then lose a lot of pale green material in the inner leaves. If you need a lot of trimmed leeks, you may, for example, have to monopolize all of the leeks from 2 or 3 different markets in Brooklyn Heights (hypothetically speaking). A better way to deal with this is to systematically cut away only the dark green parts of each leaf, starting from the outside and working your way in. This strategy can also be used with larger green garlic, so that what you are left with is a tapered stalk.

Next, trim the roots from the bottom of the bulb. You’ll then want to clean the garlic, particularly of any dirt that may be stuck between the layers. The way to do this is to make a cut, lengthwise, down the midpoint of the stalk, leaving the bulb intact. Turn the garlic 90 degrees along the axis of the stalk, and make another slit down the middle. You are now left with a bulb attached to streamers that can be splayed out and rinsed in the sink.

At this point you can either chop the garlic, or slice it into larger (say, 1″ long) slivers. It works either way; I think it just depends on what kind of texture you want.

In a large fry pan, sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until wilted and beginning to turn golden (about 10 minutes). Use enough oil to comfortably prevent the garlic from drying out, but no more. Add beef stock and deglaze the pan, if necessary. Add lots of black pepper, to taste. Cover the pan and lower heat, cooking until the garlic becomes tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

Selecting and cooking the pasta I do think the kind of pasta matters. For sauces like this, I am partial to thin noodles, either spaghettini or angel hair. The commonly found store brands I like best are Barilla and De Cecco. In almost all cases, I will go with pasta made from refined semolina flour. In the interest of keeping my daughter healthier than me, I did briefly investigate whole wheat flour pastas. I uniformly hate them. The flavors are not always offensive, but the texture is brittle, and that really kills it for me. (For the record, Esme doesn’t like them, either. She knows what’s up.) A compromise that I have found acceptable is Barilla Plus, which is not a whole grain pasta, but rather one made from refined semolina durum flour enriched with other grains. I find this palatable, but prefer traditional pastas.

Boil the pasta in a medium stockpot with at least a teaspoon salt, and taste often, correcting when appropriate. In this case, I advise seasoning slightly beyond what you feel is necessary, because salt doesn’t dissolve well in oil. Therefore, the garlic is likely to be underseasoned. Your goal here is to cook the pasta just shy of al dente. At that point, drain the noodles and add them to your warmed skillet. Toss until evenly coated with garlic and oil. Add more stock or black pepper, if needed. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until pasta is done.

In the presentation below, I took some optional steps of tossing the pasta in fresh miner’s lettuce and serving with a farm egg that had been slow-poached and quickly seared.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Note to self: When describing to a 2-year-old child what she is about to eat, do not use the word, “garlic.”

I don’t like garlic, Daddy.
Try it. I think you will.
Noooooooooo.
OK, then do you want to try some crazy Daddy noodles?
Yeah. Can I have some of your noodles, Mommy?
(Esme often confuses Erin and me, and then immediately corrects.) Daddy? (She eats about 10 noodles.)
Esme, do you like your crazy Daddy noodles?
Yeah.
Do you want to eat them again for lunch tomorrow?
I want to eat them … right … noooooooow.
OK, baby. I’ll get you your own plate.

 


green garlic

trim green garlic
trimmed green garlic

slice green garlic lengthwise

layers of sliced green garlic

spaghettini pasta with green garlic poached egg and miner's lettuce

baby esme smells green garlic

child serving of spaghettini pasta with green garlic and miner's lettuce

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16 comments… read them below or add one

angi April 27, 2010 at 10:39 am

Awesome post as always!

I have to agree about whole-wheat pasta – as much as I like the idea, the texture is just off. The only dish we’ve found we actually like it in is whole wheat pasta with greens, olives, and harissa (http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/harissa-spaghettini-recipe.html).

Oh and let’s make fresh pasta with your garlic/olive oil combo sometime — we can bring over the pasta machine!

Reply

Ben April 27, 2010 at 11:37 am

Thanks, and let’s!

Also, great tip with pasta/harissa recipe. Tempted to try it, but I’m afraid Esme’s palate is a little too sensitive for that right now. There’s an interesting idea in the comments section to use buckwheat noodles. I think the Korean ones used to make Naengmyeon would be awesome with that dish.

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angi April 27, 2010 at 1:43 pm

True – harissa is probably too spicy for Esme and it’s not exactly something you can ‘tone down’ since it’s just chiles, garlic, and oil. It would _definitely_ be crazy Daddy noodles then. :)

Heidi at 101 Cookbooks actually have a lot of great ideas for whole wheat pasta, if you do want to give them another try. Here’s one I’ve bookmarked but haven’t tried yet (for obvious, nutty reasons): http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/walnut-miso-noodles-recipe.html

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Daisy Rhau April 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

This sounded so amazing that I stood in the rainstorm at the farmer’s market last Sunday screaming, “What do you mean you’re sold out of green garlic?” (I had some seriously low blood sugar too.)

I’m hoping Kentucky’s green garlic season sustains a little longer. Who knows…maybe I can make this for MOM and DAD!!

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Ben April 27, 2010 at 11:38 am

Lexingtonians have good taste! Did you try WFM? There’s one on Lexington Green Circle. If you can escape from that place without going broke …

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Bridget Nelson April 28, 2010 at 5:22 am

Great post! I didn’t realize young garlic was called green garlic. While checking out the garden with my Uncle, he plucks this young plant out of the dirt, wipes it off with his shirt, and eats it whole without so much as a wince! I’m with you on the Barilla Plus. Wheat pasta is not for me – I even find it a little tough to digest. I’ll try this with vegetable stock, though I haven’t found one worth buying twice.

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Ben April 28, 2010 at 8:28 am

Thanks Bridge, both for the kind words and the RP! Ya, the terminology can be confusing, and it also wasn’t necessarily obvious to me that young garlic, fresh garlic, green garlic, spring garlic, etc refer to the same thing. Especially when some people (I feel) try to correct you at the market. I generally use what I *think* is the most common term in my posts, but that’s probably going to be regional.

Fortunately for you, veg stock is even easier to make than meat and fish stocks, because you only simmer for 1 hr or less. I just checked on The Google and found a really nice post from Brin Eats about Deborah Madison’s vegetable stock. Too much work? Don’t sauté anything. Just make the stock with raw veggies. It will be lighter and brighter tasting, so it really depends on what you want to use it for. If the flavor isn’t strong enough, reduce the stock after straining. Aside from the waiting, this whole thing amounts to about 15 minutes of your time. Trust me, it’s totally worth it!

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Bridget Nelson April 28, 2010 at 9:13 am

Thanks for the link. I just *knew* you were going to suggest making my own! I’ll to give it a whirl and let you know how it goes. Also, I forgot to note that I remember making fish and lima beans for you and Erin once and you said it was good but that you would definitely add garlic :)

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Mary JaneSpadin April 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm

With whole wheat and whole grain available in so many other venues, I stay with the traditional semolina pasta, Barilla always reliable. I’m with you on the texture. Besides, I don’t cook pasta to just to eat pasta: I cook it to put phenomenal stuff on!

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Virginia May 1, 2010 at 8:24 pm

My children have never had it so good! I can’t wait to dress up their meals. Beautiful photos.

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Ben May 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Thanks, Virginia! Your girls look like they’re having it pretty good with those cupcakes, tho. :)

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Ben May 3, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Thanks, Alisa! I really like that picture, too. We had a lot of fun that day.

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Alisa-Foodista May 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm

It looks really delicious. I love that photo of Esme smelling the garlic.

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michele July 10, 2010 at 10:40 am

Hi Ben,
Do you think I can I make this with just regular bulb garlic and leeks? I don’t have access to young garlic? Thought?
Michele

Reply

Ben July 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Definitely. For the same portion above, I would saute the leeks first, and about halfway through add 1 – 2 tsp of finely chopped garlic. You want to time it so that when the leeks are done, the garlic is cooked until pale gold, but not brown.

Same goes if you use young garlic, but find that it’s a liitle dried out or not very fragrant. Just add some cured garlic to bring it back to life!

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michele July 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Thank you! I am making this dish this week.

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