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Aromatic signs of the season

January 24, 2007|Russ Parsons

Just in

Green garlic: One of the first harbingers of spring in Southern California is green garlic. But while spring is still a long way off, green garlic is already starting to show up, thanks to our unusually warm winter. (Well, it was unusually warm until it got unusually cold.) Green garlic is the immature garlic plant, shoot and bulb combined. The flavor is noticeably garlicky, but without the sharpness that the mature bulb develops. Depending on the time of year, green garlic can be as slim as a scallion or nearly fully developed, with a swollen bulb made up of individual cloves wrapped in a very thin membrane. The intensity of the flavor varies according to the size of the bulb. The more mature the bulb, the stronger the garlic taste. When green garlic is young, slim and mild, chop it up and use it in salads, as you would a garlic chive. As it becomes older, fatter and more assertive, it needs to be cooked. Braise green garlic shoots as you would any other vegetable -- combine them in a skillet with about one-quarter cup of water and some olive oil or butter. Cover and simmer until the thickest part of the bulb is tender, then remove the lid and raise the heat to high. The liquid will evaporate, leaving behind the glazed garlic.

Schaner Farms, $2 a bunch.

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Fennel: It's hard to think about winter in Southern California without fennel. The stuff covers hillsides up and down the coast. You can even find it growing like a common weed in vacant lots. A weed is actually the way many botanists think of it. No matter how delicious cooks may find fennel, it is classified as an invasive species and a particularly pernicious one at that. Almost anywhere there is broken ground you'll find a fennel sprout, crowding out the native species that might otherwise have been growing there. You might be tempted to dig up a bulb for dinner, but don't bother. It takes careful cultivation to get fennel to grow with large, tender bulbs, and wild fennel tends to be tough and stringy. (The seeds and fronds, though, are delicious.) But once you've got a bulb, you can use it raw and crisp in all kinds of salads. (Blood orange is just one alternative.) Or you can cook it gently and the flavor mellows and sweetens and the texture turns silky.

Various vendors, 75 cents each.

-- Russ Parsons

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