A celebration of garlic

Mark Bastille Day with this French tradition

One of my favorite books as a child was a cookbook called Fanny at Chez Panisse, written by the legendary chef and restaurateur Alice Waters. In it she chronicles her then-young daughter's adventures growing up in what is still today one of California's most iconic restaurants. In the first section of the book, a seven-year-old Fanny details the dynamic cast of characters that work in the restaurant and the farmers who supply it with some of the world's most exquisite ingredients. Chez Panisse is often thought of as an origin point for the farm-to-table restaurant movement in the United States and the stories in the beginning of the book illustrate that perfectly. The second section is comprised of 46 recipes, organized by ingredient, and all reflecting the classical techniques and confident simplicity for which Chez Panisse is known. Although this is technically a children's cookbook, I would argue that anyone will enjoy cooking from it.

A memory from this book that has remained with me is Fanny's description of the restaurant's annual Bastille Day celebration: "My favorite day at Chez Panisse is Bastille Day. Bastille Day is like the Fourth of July in France only it's on the fourteenth of July. There's a big party every year and since Bastille Day happens at the same time of year that all the new garlic comes in, there's always a big, special dinner that night. Everything they serve has garlic in it: garlic soup, garlic bread, roasted garlic, roasted chicken with garlic, garlic wine, garlic butter, garlic mayonnaise, garlic pizza, garlic oil, and one time they even had chocolate-covered garlic cloves. I'm not kidding." As a result I've always loved the idea of hosting a Bastille Day celebration, complete with garlicky Provençal dishes, Edith Piaf on the stereo and highlight reels from the Tour de France running in the background.

This year I grew my first big crop of garlic and the harvest has been so bountiful that I may finally get around to hosting the garlic-laced Bastille Day celebration of my dreams. The garlic was planted in mid-November and was ready to harvest the first week of July. It was an easy crop to grow and the end result so delicious that it will definitely become a regular part of my garlic rotation. I weeded the bed twice this spring and applied a thick layer of good compost. Then, when the leaves began to brown and just five green leaves were left on the plant I used a pitchfork to loosen the soil so I could easily dig the bulbs out, then laid them out to dry and cure on a makeshift rack. This year I'll save back some of what I grew to plant with again in November, making garlic a generous perpetual crop.

In the kitchen, fresh garlic is a dream to work with. The firm, juicy bulbs peel easily and the cloves lack any of the sharp bitterness that is often associated with older garlic. Stored in a well ventilated area in net bags, properly cured garlic will keep for several months. In addition to being a cornerstone ingredient in so many of the world's most delicious dishes and cuisines, garlic is beneficial to one's health. Garlic and other members of the onion family are known to have broad spectrum antibacterial and antifungal properties, and can boost the immune system and help reduce the length and severity of colds.

There is an entire section of recipes devoted to garlic in Fanny at Chez Panisse, including one of my personal favorite indulgences – pasta with garlic and parsley. Freshly chopped garlic is sautéed in olive oil until it just sizzles before being tossed with hot pasta and chopped parsley. When my tomatoes are finally ripe I'm looking forward to roughly chopping them up with fresh garlic and basil to use as a topping for warm grilled bruschetta. Fresh garlic is in season now and available at Suttill's Garden in Springfield and at the Old Capitol Farmers Market downtown.

Cauliflower Skordalia

My mother would occasionally make this Greek dip for parties. It's basically cold garlicky mashed potatoes served with bread and, weird as that sounds, it is incredibly good (and budget/vegan friendly). Delicious as it is, it is too carb-heavy for my current lifestyle, so I decided to try it with cauliflower (which is also in season now). The result was luscious and creamy, and we all agreed we preferred it to the original potato version.

3 cups cauliflower florets (from ½ large cauliflower)
¼ cup best quality olive oil
3 tablespoons ground almonds
1 clove of garlic
Juice of one lemon
Chopped parsley
Sliced baguette, to serve

Steam the cauliflower until just tender, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and rinse with cold water, then pat dry. Transfer to a food processor along with the olive oil, ground almonds, garlic, lemon juice and a generous pinch of salt. Process until smooth. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Ashley Meyer is a cook and food writer living in Springfield with her husband and two children.