Garlic was one of the first herbs to be cultivated about 4,000 years ago. It was not only used as a flavouring for food, but for medicine and rituals too. The earliest written reference dates back 5,000 years, and Chinese scholars had encouraging things to say about garlic as early as 3,000BC. The ancient Egyptians valued it so highly they would trade a healthy male slave for 15 pounds of garlic. Garlic is now loved world wide in almost every cuisine; can you imagine a world without it?
Fresh garlic has the ability to take a dish from zero to one hundred. Raw, roasted, confit – each way you use it brings unique flavour to the plate. Garlic is used to strengthen the flavour of produce, proteins and dairy, but when used with a blank canvas, such as rice, pasta or couscous, it can be the hero.
Use raw garlic when you’re craving the pungent, sharp garlic tang. Blitz into curry pastes and marinades; use a small amount in vinaigrettes or crush and sweat off with onion as the base for sauces. Be sure not to burn garlic as it turns bitter very quickly.
Fresh garlic coupled with fresh ginger brings out the sweetness in meats, sauces and greens and keeps the punchiness of the sulphurous garlic. Cook lamb and veggies over the flame, brushed with rosemary and garlic to bring out smoky winter aromas. The intensity of the two together make a gutsy statement. For a sweeter, more mellow pair, use thyme and garlic. Roasted mushrooms never fail when paired with thyme and garlic, nor does warm roasted olives, lamb and chicken.
Roasting whole bulbs of garlic leaves the pungency in its dust and brings a sweet, caramelised profile to the now soft cloves. Mix roasted garlic paste into butters, blitz into hummus, or simply spread on a crostini. When roasting vegetables, throw a whole bulb or two of garlic in the tray and squeeze then mix through the final product.
Confit garlic gifts you with both a garlic oil and smearable cloves. Use the garlic oil to brush over flame-cooked flat breads, on steak, in dressings or just as a way to introduce a milder garlic flavour. Use the cloves as the base for aioli, jus and pesto, or smear it to stir through roasted cauliflower, creamy potato mash and cheesy dips.
Black garlic is the product of aging regular garlic bulbs over the course of weeks or months. It can be house made but requires regulated temperature and humidity and it is readily available to buy. It has a molasses-like flavour that is less sharp than raw garlic but more caramelised than roasted or confit. Use black garlic as you would roasted garlic and play with the smoky charcoal hue it will give when used in sauces.
Marlborough is the famous New Zealand garlic growing region, with other growers dotted around New Zealand from the Waikato to Horowhenua to Southland.
While garlic is available all year round, New Zealand garlic supplies dwindle by late spring, and we rely heavily on imports from the US and China. The new season harvest is dug up in December and January and at its best from March onwards.