Well, it’s almost solstice, and the annual garlic harvest has once again come to a head. (I know, I know – I couldn’t resist.) But seriously: the individual cloves I planted last November have overwintered, sprouted, and have now formed 2′ tall plants, ready to flower. These blossoms, twisty floral spikes called “necks” in the vernacular (or more botanically ,”scapes”) are generally neglected by the average gardener. If you’re wise to garlic’s ways, you’ll snap them off to prevent the plant from spending all that bulb-building energy flowering – and ultimately – producing hundreds of tiny clovelets for each bud. (Garlic “seeds” are actually tiny, tiny cloves; each will eventually form a full new head, albeit in an additional year. For wonder’s sake, you should allow one or two heads to mature fully, if only to witness this minor horticultural miracle….)
Ahem! To point:
As I was saying, if you really want hardy, replete heads of garlic, you should prevent the bulb from forming flowers. For any other plant, normal practice would dictate ruthlessly snapping off and discarding the blossoms. But these shoots aren’t meant for the compost pile. Oh no. Garlic necks are chefs’ gold. Delicately flavored, these tender elongations can be used in any recipe in which you would use whole cloves, providing a welcome bridge between last year’s harvest (probably now about exhausted) and next year’s crop (still a month away, in July, when the foliage finally withers and the big fat heads can be dug up for storage.)
Here’s one of my favorite late spring/early summer recipes. It’s an almost instant, please-the-family meal perfect for those days when you’re too tired from gardening to cook much, but still feel like eating something from bag, tray or take-out.
Recipe: Sauteed Garlic Necks, Parsley and Tuna, Tossed in Pasta
3 to 4 garlic necks (add or subtract according to taste; each neck is the rough equivalent of about 1/4 to 1/2 clove garlic; necks are akin to leeks, but stronger.) Chop finely.
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 can tuna, packed in water (smoked pacific salmon makes a delicious high-end twist)
2-3 cups cooked pasta (farfalle or other substantial pasta works well)
Saute the chopped garlic necks in a skillet lightly dressed with olive oil; cook until soft. Add the parsley; saute one minute, stirring to prevent burning. Add the tuna with liquid, breaking up the fish into fine flakes. Heat till warmed, adding 1/4 cup of water if necessary to make a slight sauce to coat pasta. Remove from burner, and toss thoroughly with warmed cooked pasta. Add salt and pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese to taste; serve immediately with parsley garnish.