antsy pants

This is the time of year that I tend to get a little squirrelly. The peas and radishes are up, but they’re weeks out from being ready to eat. Same with the first crop of carrots and beets. The tart cherries are in full bloom, but a pie is at least a month off. Basically, the garden at this point is brimming with hope, but not much action. There’s rhubarb, that’s promising. But even as much as I love those tart crisp stalks, theres really only so many places you can take them. Which leaves me pacing the freshly strawed garden paths and twiddling my thumbs.

Inevitably my gaze falls on the showiest thing in the garden – an innocent row of perky garlic. And I wonder out loud, “Should I?” Meaning, dare I indulge myself and recklessly dip into the fall harvest prematurely? When garlic is harvested at this stage it is referred to as green garlic. It looks something like a cross between a scallion and a leek – just a straight slender stalk, without its traditional bulb attached to the end. Herein lies the dilemma. What could potentially become 8-15 individual plump cloves of garlic instead gets scarfed down as one. And that’s it. Party’s over. It feels like such a disgrace, such a rip-off to the garlic plant.

I casually avert my eyes for a moment. Oh the agony! Green garlic is really good. It is everything I crave this time of year. It’s earthy and mild and fresh and garlicky. It puts the lingering heads of our fall stored garlic to shame. But it just feels so wrong. Still, I can’t help myself. I never can. A stalk here to mix in with the pasta. A stalk there for an asparagus frittata. And several stalks to make spinach and green garlic soup. This really feels like going overboard, but it is so worth it. So much so that I now make it a point to plant a small bed each fall of what I know is going to be harvested as green garlic. Somehow it eases my guilt. At least a little. It’s not like I went and got anyone’s hopes up or anything. Those garlics knew their fate right from the get-go.

Any remaining doubt is generally absolved when I take a deep inhale over the resulting steamy bowl of bright green garlicky goodness. I am normally a slow eater. Painfully slow by some people’s standards. But not with this soup. This soup puts my hand into high gear, involuntarily spooning it into my mouth faster than I can keep up. It dribbles down my chin. I don’t care. I lick the bowl clean and then go back for another scoop to do it all over again. It’s so earthy and green, I literally feel my body soaking it up after a winter’s worth of starchy root crops.

On my second bowlful, I generally come up for air long enough to dunk a piece of buttered baguette into my bowl and have a sip of wine. My friend Mary, who knows way more about wine than I do, recently turned me onto an amazing petite sirah, old vine zin and old vine mourverde blend (Phantom) from Boggle. It’s as earthy and as deep as this soup – in a wine sort of way. They are a match made in heaven. And with that, I know I’ll make it. I can put my antsy pants back on the shelf for another year. Summer is nearly here. I can taste it. I just hope the peas and carrots get on with things in a timely manner. For the garlic’s sake.

This recipe is an adaptation from Zuni Café in San Francisco, via one of my favorite food blogs, Orangette. I usually sacrifice at least a baker’s dozen (sometimes more) of garlic plants for the soup. If you don’t have your own garlic plot to contemplate pilfering, (or even if you do, but happen to have more restraint than I do) fear not. This is the time of year you are likely to find green garlic shoots at farmer’s markets and other places that sell local produce. You’ll want to use just the tender white and pale green parts of the plant. Save the tougher green tops for use in a vegetable stock if you’re so inclined. You could also try the soup with regular garlic, but I would use just a few cloves, minced and simmered just a titch longer. It’d still be a lovely way to celebrate that long awaited spring spinach.

Spinach and Green Garlic Soup

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 – 3/4 lb. trimmed green garlic (13 -15 1/4″ thick stalks), thinly sliced
Salt & pepper
4 cups vegetable stock (homemade or boxed)
10 oz. fresh, spring spinach leaves, chopped if the leaves are large
1 Tbsp. yogurt, keifir, or crème fraîche
Fresh lemon

Heat the  butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the green garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. You should notice the pungency of the garlic mellowing as it cooks. Add the stock, bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat to keep a gentle simmer going for about 15 minutes. Add the spinach, and turn off the heat. Stir the spinach in and let it sit covered for just 5 minutes. Puree the soup using an immersion blender (or regular blender).

Stir in 1 Tbsp. of yogurt, keifir, or crème fraîche, another pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve warm or hot, with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a few drips of yogurt, keifir, crème fraîche.

Serves 4 (Unless your body is totally thirsty for greenness. Then you could possibly, maybe, eat almost an entire pot all by your very self. I know. I’ve done it.)

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