In December I attended a launch party for the Australian garlic season (in my capacity as ‘expert wine pourer’). It was also the launch of a new book, “Garlic” by Penny Woodward.
As the speeches were made I became aware of just how ignorant about garlic I was. Growing up in a small country town in the 80s, garlic existed in my house in powder form and made a cameo appearance in the once-weekly spag bol. Later we transitioned to garlic in a jar which was scooped liberally into the once-weekly spag bol as well as it’s cousin the once-fortnightly stir-fry. When I left home I started buying the fancy bulbs of garlic in the supermarket (and not cooking the same dishes every week 🙂 ). I thought I had conquered the garlic world.
Until I heard Penny speak.
I learnt a lot about garlic that night but the bit that really sits with me is the importance of buying locally grown. I left that night with a full belly, enough garlic on my breath to repel vampires for 50 yards, a bag bursting with fresh Australian garlic bulbs and a new appreciation for this humble vegetable.
The first time I used the Aussie garlic in my cooking I realised what I had been missing out on all this time. The cloves were fat and crisp, brimming with natural oils and far more fragrant than the rubbery imported versions I have been using all this time.
I thought I’d ask Penny a few questions to learn more:
Roughly how many cultivars of garlic are there? How many of these are grown in Australia?
World wide there are probably more than 1,000 garlic cultivars, in Australia more than 100. These cultivars are now divided into groups with different characteristics depending on what group they are found in. Garlic is not just garlic, cloves can be red, pink, purple, cream, bronze, brown and white. They can be hot and spicy, pungent and sulphurous, mild and nutty, fruity and garlicky and combinations of all of these. And the way they are prepared and cooked alters the flavours again.
What prompted you to write “Garlic”?
Garlic has always fascinated me because of its history, and use by so many different cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is associated with myth and magic, as well as medicine and cooking. And as a botanist I am interested in its clonal origins and the fact that it hasn’t been grown from seed for thousands of years. And I love the way it is always surprising. Just when you think you understand a cultivar and the way it looks and grows, an odd seasonal fluctuation will cause a bulb to grow two scapes instead of one, or extra cloves around the outside. I’ve learnt to never say never with garlic. But ultimately it is the flavour of garlic that I love.
Other than to support our local farmers (a very important reason in itself), why else should we be purchasing Australian garlic?
Australian grown garlic is so much better than imported garlic. A quote from my book, ‘Quite apart from the inherent food miles, there are several other reasons why we shouldn’t eat this [imported] garlic. Imported garlic is often bleached, irradiated, sprayed with maleic acid to stop it from sprouting, kept for months in cold storage and, finally, it is always treated with methyl bromide before being allowed onto our supermarket shelves. Methyl bromide is a potent and toxic biocide with insecticidal, fungicidal and herbicidal properties. It is also the most potent ozone depleting substance in use in Australia today’.
What else should we know about garlic?
On the cooking level, it is worth noting that every part of garlic is edible. It can be eaten as garlic spouts, garlic greens, green garlic, garlic rounds, garlic scapes and garlic bulbils as well as smoked garlic and black garlic. And this is before you even start on the cloves!
Garlic Bread Recipe
If you are familiar with my carb-love it won’t surprise you that garlic bread is one of my favourite ways to eat garlic. I have been known to devour an entire cheap, buttery, home-brand loaf all by myself
regularly on more than one occasion. It’s not terribly healthy though.
Recently a visiting friend gave me the most wonderful gift of a giant bag of bread making flour and this simple ‘daily bread’ recipe. I don’t know who came up with this but the idea is that you can mix up a loaf of bread in 5 minutes, leave it to rise for at least two hours (or overnight, or all day), tear off a bit of dough and make fresh bread whenever you want it. It’s a game changer.
Here’s a little variation on the basic recipe that makes a lovely fresh garlic loaf ready to be slathered with butter or dipped in fresh fruity olive oil. A garlic bread recipe that can actually be healthy (I say CAN because it doesn’t have to be 😉 ). With this bread you can add any seeds or flavourings right at the very beginning, which helps release natural oils from herbs. However along with the many health benefits of garlic (studies show cardiovascular, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties), it may affect yeast growth – a good thing if you are suffering from a candidate infection, less good for bread making; so add the garlic just before you bake.
This recipe makes a light spongy loaf; because you don’t knead it the dough is less dense. I love it because it is so very easy and I know exactly what is in it, no hidden nasties. The bread is completely adaptable, why not make fruit bread with cinnamon spices or pop some olives in. If your additions are large or heavy, add them at the end so they don’t weigh the dough down during rising.
Nothing better than fresh garlic bread, warm and crusty from the oven, with a generous dollop of butter or dip of olive oil.
For more information on garlic cultivars check out Penny’s Australian Garlic Website or the Australian Garlic Industry Association (AGIA). Also, if you are interested in growing garlic yourself, “Garlic” by Penny Woodward is available from bookstores or on her website along with a number of other great gardening books and articles.
What’s your earliest memory of garlic?
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1/2 tablespoon salt (sea salt is best)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
- 3 cups plain flour
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
- 2-3 cloves finely chopped or minced garlic
- Place yeast, water, sugar and salt in a large bowl and stir. Then add rosemary and flour.
- Mix the dough together using a butterknife until you have a uniform moist dough (I tend to use my fingers a bit at the end).
- Cover bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for at least two hours.
- Preheat oven to 250C/480F
- Add garlic to the dough and mix it through with a knife very briefly.
- Line a tray with baking paper and dust with flour.
- With floured hands, grab a chunk of dough and gently shape it on the tray. Avoid over handling.
- Brush top of loaf with milk and sprinkle lightly with sea salt
- Bake for 30-40 minutes (depending on size of loaf). When ready bread should sound hollow when tapped with the handle of a wooden spoon.
- Try to use a good quality unbleached flour
- Lukewarm water feels just slightly warm if you dip your finger in.
- You can use more or less salt if you wish
- Dry yeast keeps best in the freezer