Ever tried green garlic or spring garlic? If you’ve even heard of it, I suspect you’re in a small (but lucky) minority.
You may have heard it called green garlic, spring garlic or garlic scallions, but whatever term you prefer, it’s one of the many delights of mid-spring, around for just a short time. Resembling a large scallion or small leek, green garlic has a delicate garlic flavor that pairs beautifully with other spring veggies like spinach and asparagus to make a perfect pasta topping.
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Green garlic is simply the garlic plant dug up before it can form a bulb. Like bulb garlic, you grow it by planting garlic cloves in the fall. (In a milder climate, you might get away with planting early in the spring. I’ve also heard of people planting sprouted cloves in pots indoors in late winter, a great use for those inedible winter cloves.)
Best to get your first garlic seeds from a local source, as it’ll be suited to your region. If you don’t have a source locally, you can order online: softneck seed garlic for milder climates, and if you’re in a colder climate, you’ll need to grow a hardneck variety. The stuff from the grocery store is often treated to keep it from sprouting, the opposite of what you want in something you’re planting!
The cloves send up shoots in the spring around the same time tulips begin poking out of the ground. I plant 15-20 of my smaller garlic cloves each fall in a separate planting dedicated to spring garlic. Another 8 or so of the largest cloves get to grow to maturity as garlic bulbs, which I harvest in late July.
Since we get more garlic from our farm than we tend to use, the majority of these bulbs wind up as seed garlic and get replanted for the next season’s green garlic and bulb garlic, an endless cycle of yummy gifts from the garden.
The window of opportunity to harvest green garlic is pretty short. You want the shoots to grow to full size so you get the most out of your planting, but if you wait too long, the plant starts creating a tough outer skin to protect the garlic bulb. At that point, the sauteed spring garlic might not be as tender as is desired, or even have a hard inner core. Some folks harvest theirs earlier so they can use the whole plant without discarding the green stems.
How to check: When your garlic shoots have sized up, dig up one of the thicker stalks carefully and check the base where the bulb would start forming. If it still looks like a scallion, you’re in the clear.
When it starts to form a bulb, you’re a bit late, so dig up the rest of them as fast as you can. Our spring was early this year and I was a bit late checking on ours, but sauteeing a bit longer and adding a little water to help soften the garlic worked pretty well.
If you see a scape — the shoot the plant sends up to create a flower and seed — forming you’re quite late and the spring garlic will likely be pretty tough. At this point you might just let the plant be bulb garlic and let it go. But keep an eye on that scape.
When it starts to curve around you want to cut it off for two reasons: 1) You want the plant’s energy to go into making a good bulb for you rather than a flower, and 2) The scapes are delicious! Chop them and add them to stirfries as a tender vegetable with a mild garlic flavor or whir them up into a garlic scape pesto.
Since I plant more green garlic than we can eat in the short harvest window, I cook it all at once and freeze some before adding other veggies to the sauté. Then I defrost the little tubs of sauteed green garlic and add it to whatever veggies are in season for a pasta dish later in the summer.
I’ve always been advised to use mostly the white part, with maybe a few additional inches of green, but you can use more if your stalks are less mature, or you can try cooking it a little longer and adding a little water to soften it.
Green Garlic, Asparagus & Spinach with Fettuccine & Parmesan
6-8 large green garlic stalks
½ pound asparagus, cut into 2” pieces
½ pound spinach, rinsed and dry
1 pound whole-grain fettuccine or other pasta of choice, cooked al dente (this is the best kind I’ve found)
- Cut off the roots of the green garlic and strip the dirty outer layer of the stalks. Cut off the bottom half or so for use and discard the rest.* Rinse and chop into thin rounds.
- Saute in olive oil till almost tender. If the garlic is on the tough side, add a little water toward the end, before adding other veggies
- Add asparagus and saute till bright green.
- Add spinach and saute till wilted.
- Serve over cooked pasta and toss with shredded parmesan. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
You can also make this with only spinach or asparagus, just double the amount of the vegetable you’re using. If you like things more full of veggies, you can increase the amounts and the dish will still work well.
*I lay the unused upper half of the stalks across my cole crops as mulch, hoping the smell might help deter resident rabbits and other kale-loving thieves. Not sure how effective it is, but I figure every little bit helps! You could also save your garlic leaves for homemade stock.
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