How to Eat Green Garlic

Mild yet flavorful, this springtime staple wakes up taste buds.


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Dopo’s chef-owner Jon Smulewitz makes pancetta-wrapped green garlic.

Photo by Lori Eanes

 

Green garlic is plentiful this month at local farmers’ markets. Harvested young, before the familiar, papery bulb has formed, it’s delicate, milder, and a welcome change after the bruised ones that have been stored over the winter—dry cloves that sprout on the kitchen counter with little provocation.

At places like Oakland trattoria Dopo, green garlic is a crowd-pleaser, lending an aromatic gravity to Dopo’s sunny tomato and ricotta pizzas. “It sells itself,” said Dopo’s chef Joey Rachel. “People are very educated about it. There weren’t a lot of people doing it before. Nowadays, every decent grower has it.”

For the source of its regional prevalence, Dopo’s chefs look to Rick Knoll of Knoll Farms in Brentwood, one of the area’s oldest organic farms. He and wife Christy have been growing and selling green garlic to local restaurants for 35 years.

“It’s really common in Asia to pick plants in their young stages,” Knoll said. “Like pea shoots, you pick the pea leaves instead of waiting for the peas. We did the same with garlic.”

Knoll began growing green garlic for financial reasons. “We were super poor and we couldn’t really wait for things to mature, so we started picking weeds and baby vegetables,” said said. “The only reason it took it off is we met Bill Fujimoto at Monterey Market, and he started selling it for us. He would order more than he needed, 100 pounds, and he would only sell 20 pounds. That’s Bill Fujimoto. He would pay you cash. He was a philanthropist for young farmers. And then Chez Panisse started to use it.”

In the early days, nobody knew what to do with it. “They would complain, and I’d say ‘Jesus, it’s garlic; just use it like garlic!’ All these bougie chefs didn’t like the color, and so they used to only use the white part until we started bitching about it.”

Recently, Knoll has developed a new, mellower twist: elephant green garlic. “Elephant garlic is easier to digest; the nutrients are more available to your biochemistry, and it tastes good, too.”

Knoll’s favorite way to eat it is fresh, with cheese. “At the farmers’ market, we would chop the white and green parts up very finely, mix it up, and mix it with some smooth cheese like a fromage blanc or a goat cheese. Then we’d spread it on a baguette,” Knoll said.

The older the plant, the more pungent the flavor, so look for very young specimens at the market, with narrow root ends and tender leaves. To store, wrap in a moistened paper towel to keep fresh.

 

Grilled Pancetta-Wrapped Green Garlic 

Recipe courtesy of Jon Smulewitz, chef-owner of Dopo.

1 bunch of green garlic, roots trimmed

Thinly sliced pancetta

Extra virgin olive oil

 

Choose pancetta taken from across the belly and ask for it to be sliced 1/8-inch thick. Wrap slices around each individual green garlic shoot. Grill over a medium to low heat so that the fat of the pancetta renders. Drizzle with olive oil if desired, and serve with a lemon wedge.

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