It’s time to get back to the business at hand here. We’re way over due for a garlic talk. The honeybee drama has sort of hogged the stage lately. Truth be told though, I’m having as much trouble with the garlic as I’ve has with the bees. And I’m sort of in denial about it. If nothing else, the bees have been providing a nice distraction.
I’ll cut right to the chase. In my 18 years of growing garlic, I have never had things go quite so wrong. Sure, I’ve harvested some varieties way too late, mislabeled others, and have even had some surface mold issues. But this – this is something all together different. Everything was smooth sailing, right up until about a week before harvest. Almost overnight though, my generally healthy looking garlic plot turned yellow and crunchy. Nearly every single plant, of every single variety. This is when the denial started. We’re in sort of a drought, I rationalized. It’s natural for things to dry up and get crispy, right?
I bumped up my harvest schedule and started pulling varieties as fast as I could. Things didn’t look too bad, but the plants just didn’t seem right. The average head size was maybe a tad smaller than normal, but overall the heads seemed firm. The curing shed gradually filled up and looked like it looks every fall, but I left it hanging to dry with sort of queazy feeling in my stomach.
I decided that the best I could do at this point was a some research. I learned, rather shockingly, that much of the garlic crop in the midwest has been affected by a bacteria called Phytoplasma
. Yellowing leaves and premature browning is a key symptom. Many growers in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are reporting up to 100% crop loss. Gulp.
The bacteria (which are tricky to detect due to their lack of a cell wall) appear to be spread from plant to plant by leafhoppers. Phytoplasma seriously affected garlic production in Edmonton, Canada 13 years ago, and in Cordoba, Argentina 15 years ago. One scientific paper I read out of Argentina refers to the disease repeatedly as ‘Tristeza del ajo’ or ‘the garlic decline.’ How sad is that? Evidentially many Midwestern crops, flowers, and vegetables have been infected by Phytoplasma disease this year.
If there is any good news in all this, it’s that the bacteria affects only the growing parts of the plant and does not infect the soil or move through the air. The bad news though, and it’s bad, is that Phytoplasma will likely overwinter in infected bulbs and the disease will carry over into the next year’s crop. This means, of course, that it is not a good idea to plant infected seed. See why I’m in still in denial? I’m one sad little garlic pig.
I have just a wee bit of what appears to be non-infected, normal seed. But even the thought of planting that makes me nervous. And I have quite a lot of infected bulbs. They also make me nervous. Once you get past peeling away their unnaturally ruddy-brown papers, the cloves are normal and safe to eat, but something tells me they may not store very well. Consequently we’ve been eating a lot of garlic intensive meals this fall. I’m doing my best to make the most of a bad situation.
Serving up Yotam Ottolenhi’s Caramelized Garlic Tart has certainly helped. I’m pretty sure I could eat this endlessly. Which is good, because I might have to in order to get through all of my declining garlic. Pair it with a simple green salad for a fantastic dinner. Or serve it up for brunch. Either way, get ready for a heavenly mix of savory cheeses and sweet caramelized garlic. It is simply delicious. And it’s bound to ease some troubles – garlic or otherwise.
Carmelized Garlic Tart
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
1 sheet (8 1/2 oz) puff pastry
3 heads of garlic (3-4 ounces total), separted and peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 scant cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
4 oz soft goat cheese (chev)
4 oz gruyere, shredded (or any similar hard cheese)
1/3 cup cream or half and half
1/3 cup crème fraîche
salt and pepper, to taste
Use a 9 1/2 to 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom for this recipe. It makes serving it a dream.
Roll out the puff pastry so it will fill the bottom and line the sides of the tart pan. Transfer to pan and trim any excess. Cut a circle of parchment the diameter of the pan and lay over the pastry. Fill up with baking beans of pie beads and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Blind bake the pastry shell in a 350ºF oven for 20 minutes. The beans or weights keep the pastry from puffing – leaving room for the filling. Remove the beans and bake for an additional 10 minutes until golden. Once done, set aside to cool.
While the pastry shell bakes, caramelize the garlic. Put the cloves in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover entirely. Bring to a boil and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain and dry the garlic. Return the pan to the heat, add oil and fry the garlic cloves in it over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat, and let it simmer for another 15 – 20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic is coated in a lucious glaze. Set aside.
Whisk together the eggs, cream, crème fraîche, salt and pepper in a bowl.
To assemble the tart, scatter the baked pastry shell with both cheese. Sppon the garlic and its syrup over the cheese. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the top. Reduce the oven to 300ºF and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until the tart is set and nicely golden brown. Garnish with thyme sprigs. Serves 8.