It's March. Everything is flowering, or at least starting to. The zen duet of “warm sun, cool breeze,” is manifesting every time you step out the door. The only thing that would tip the spring meter into the red would be a taste of fresh green garlic and parsley pesto, maybe thickened with the last of the winter walnuts because you're not quite ready to believe that spring has irrevocably arrived.
Lily Baltazar, the queen of greens at ABC Rhubarb, is known more for her consistently high quality herb selection — some of her seasonal offerings like fresh summer savory or the large-leafed Hoja de Santa aren't readily found elsewhere. About five years ago she added cultivated oyster, shitake and wood ear mushrooms to her tables, but not before some serious research and quality checks. Her partner in mushroom harvests is Lily Yang, the powerhouse horticulturist behind the small-but-mighty four-acre Bih Shan Farm out in Mira Loma. Yang's market reach is somewhat limited — she's only at the Long Beach Southeast, Cerritos and Riverside markets — but Baltazar's partnership puts Yang's immaculate mushrooms, and now her early green garlic, side by side with some of the best herbs in L.A.
That pesto recipe is just two more tables shy of being entirely from the Hollywood Farmers Market. Head a few tables north on Ivar (ABC is north of Selma on the east side) to Shear Rock for the locally pressed olive oil. Get the Arbosana if they have it — super fruity and crisp, with sharp, but not taste killing pepper notes. Head a few tables south to K&K Ranch for the walnuts — they have big, meaty Chandlers but splurge for their red-skinned walnuts. They're less tannic and pre-shelled and will balance well with the softer aromatics.
Yes, softer. Green garlic is a feather touch compared to the end-of-summer punch of fully matured garlic. It's a twin to scallions early in the season — slim and tender with short greenery on top of a white stalk. The bulbs swell and stalks stretch as the warmer weather does and by June, you can start to pull apart the proto-cloves like you would from any other garlic bulb. Along with being a milder way to enjoy garlic, green garlic also tastes, well, green. It has a fresh grassiness to it — the entire plant is edible so use it all — that adds a sweet edge to the mild garlic tang. Use raw or cook lightly as Patrick Comiskey suggests, steamed with some mussels and paired with a crisp Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
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