The new season's garlic is with us. The plump white bulbs, with their waxy skin flushed with green and mauve, are milder than the pungent dried garlic we have been using all winter. There is a pleasing subtlety to them, whether you use them raw or lightly roasted.
Chilli pesto garlic bread
By using spring garlic for a traditional garlic bread, you introduce a less strident note. The bread, hot and buttery, is gently scented rather than overpoweringly garlicky.
white or sourdough loaf medium sized
For the chilli pesto
red chilli 1 large
pecorino Toscano 200g
garlic 4 large cloves
olive oil 8 tbsp
pine nuts 50g
Halve the chilli and discard the seeds. Put the chilli into the bowl of a food processor with the pecorino, basil leaves and stems, the raw garlic and the olive oil, then process for a few seconds. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.
Tip the pine nuts into a shallow pan and toast over a moderate flame, shaking the pan regularly, until golden. Remove from the heat and roughly chop, then stir in the herb and chilli oil.
Score the bread three of four times across the top, cutting a good two thirds of the way down to the base, then cut in the opposite direction. Place the loaf on a large piece of tinfoil and spread the pesto down into the splits in the bread. Wrap the loaf loosely in the tinfoil and bake for 45 minutes before tearing.
Steamed vegetables, garlic cream sauce
A gentle dish of spring vegetables and young garlic. It works as an accompaniment too if you wish, perhaps to roast chicken or lamb.
young, thin leeks 300g
cucumber medium sized
young carrots 180g
For the cream sauce
double cream 300ml
garlic 3 cloves
tarragon chopped, a handful
Cut the leeks into pieces about the length of a wine cork. Washing them thoroughly in cold running water as you go.
Peel and halve the cucumber, scrape out and discard the seedy pulp, then cut the flesh into roughly 3cm length pieces. Scrub the carrots and trim the broccoli. Chop the tarragon.
While the vegetables cook, pour the cream into a medium-sized saucepan. Using the flat side of a knife blade, squash the garlic cloves then add them to the cream. Bring the cream to the boil then add the chopped tarragon, a little salt and some black pepper, then set aside for 20 minutes to infuse.
Put a steamer on to heat up, then steam the vegetables, including the cucumber, till tender but still with a good crisp bite to them.
Warm the sauce briefly, then divide the vegetables between 4 warm plates then spoon over the garlic sauce.
Sirloin steak with aubergine
The garlicky pan juices from cooking steak are used to flavour its accompaniment of diced aubergine.
sirloins 2 large, about 250g-300g each
butter 60g and a little extra
olive oil a little
new garlic 1 whole head
rosemary 3 sprigs
Melt the butter in a shallow non-stick (or well used cast iron) pan. Add a little oil to stop the butter from burning. Slice the whole head of garlic in half across the middle and place it cut-side down in the butter together with the whole sprigs of rosemary.
Let the garlic cook, gently, for about 10 minutes, adjusting the heat so the garlic colours only lightly.
When the garlic is soft and pale gold in colour, season the sirloins and add them to the butter, removing the garlic if necessary. Cook the steaks on both sides, then remove and leave to rest for 6-8 minutes, covered lightly with foil.
Add the aubergine, diced into very small cubes, to the pan and let it cook, constantly spooning over the butter and steak juices, adding a little more oil if the aubergines are particularly thirsty.
Let them brown lightly and make sure they are thoroughly tender. Squeeze the half lemon into the aubergine and serve with the nicely rested steak.
Roasted garlic mushroom tart
To roast garlic: put whole, unpeeled heads of garlic in a small oven dish, not too tightly packed; bake at 180C/gas mark 4 for about 45-50 minutes. You can put foil over them if you wish, or wrap them loosely like a parcel, which make them less likely to dry out. They are ready when the cloves are soft and sweet, and can be crushed between your finger and thumb.
puff pastry 325g
For the paste
roasted garlic 1 head (as above)
double cream 6 tbsp
For the mushrooms
large button mushrooms 300g
butter a thick slice
olive oil 3 tbsp
dill 4 tbsp
Roll the pastry into a rectangle 30 x 40cm, place longest side towards you, then cut into four equal rectangles. Place them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and set the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Score an inner rectangle onto each of the pieces of pastry, about 2cm in from the edges. Try not to cut through to the work surface. Whisk an egg and brush the rim of each rectangle with a little of the egg wash, then bake for about 20-25 minutes or until crisp and golden.
Halve or thickly slice the mushrooms, then cook them in the butter and olive oil, in a shallow pan till golden and slightly sticky. Season with salt, pepper and the 3 tablespoons of chopped dill.
Peel the roast garlic, then put in a small bowl and crush to a paste with the back of a spoon. Pour in the cream, a couple of spoonfuls at time, letting it thicken slightly as you go. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the tarts from the oven then push the inner rectangle of each tart down with a spoon or palette knife to give a shallow hollow. Spread the garlic cream over each hollow then add the sautéed mushrooms and garnish with the remaining dill. Serve immediately.
Prawns with spring herbs
One of those messy, pick-up-and-get-stuck-in dishes.
prawns raw, shell on, 12 (about 400g)
For the marinade
roasted garlic 4 large cloves, peeled
olive oil 8 tbsp
lime 1 or 2
fennel fronds or dill to finish, a handful
Put the dill and tarragon leaves into a food processor with the roasted garlic and the olive oil, and process till you have bright-green-speckled oil. Season with black pepper and pour into a shallow dish. Toss the prawns in the marinade, then set aside for an hour or so.
Tip the prawns and their marinade into a sauté pan set over a moderate heat and let them cook for about 3 minutes or until they have turned pink. Squeeze a lime over them and serve immediately, with more lime if you wish and with a few dill or fennel fronds.Chilli pesto garlic bread. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Food Monthly