Forget the Chinese garlic from the supermarket, Australian garlic found in season at farmers' markets is great for roasting
New season garlic can be found in Victorian farmers markets this month, with their lime green scapes, their purple bulbs - depending on the variety - and a thatch of roots at their base. A bulb of garlic takes about 7 to 8 months to grow to maturity - again, depending on the variety - of which, there are many.
Penny Woodward has written a wonderful book about garlic, appropriately titled Garlic. In Australia we tend to think of garlic as well, garlic, but Woodward writes about us expanding our thinking, and our knowledge about this wonderful odiferous plant. There isn't just one type of garlic, there are many cultivars: Creole, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Turban, Silverskin are just a few.
The Chinese garlic we see in the supermarkets is old, has travelled far and there are reports of it being bleached white with chlorine and sprayed with a growth retardant to slow the garlic sprouting on the shelves.
It's best to buy your garlic from a favourite fruit and vegetable grocer, or even better from the farmers market. Make sure you buy Australian. Look for bulbs that are hard to the touch, squeeze them and make sure they're not soft, or sprouted. If you're buying organic the bulbs are usually smaller than a non-organic bulb, but they will be sure to be full of flavour. Chinese garlic will taste bland in comparison.
Garlic scapes - the stalk of the garlic plant - are a delicious spring treat. Full of flavour and tender, they can be sautéed or added to pesto. New season garlic can be used immediately, or it can be left to hang in an airy place and in this way it's preserved for use over the coming year.
Roasting is a wonderful way to mellow the flavour of garlic. The cloves caramalise and end up soft and sweet. This recipe can be made with regular bulbs of garlic, as well as new season garlic, and in the shot we have pictured here, there are two new season bulbs of garlic, and a bulb of regular garlic in the pan, so you can see the comparison. The new season garlic, being a little wetter, will take a little longer in the oven. A bulb of roast garlic makes a wonderful accompaniment to a charcuterie plate, having a robust flavour, it's perfect to spread over a crusty loaf of bread topped with a slice of prosciutto.
Roast new season garlic
1 bulb of garlic
Sea salt and pepper
A crusty loaf of bread, and a selection of charcuterie, and hard cheese
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Do not peel the garlic bulb. Cut the top off the bulb of garlic. You don't want to lose too much garlic, but you do want each clove to be have surface area so that when it's turned in the oven, the bulb will touch the base of the baking sheet or pan, and the sugars in the garlic will caramelise in the hot olive oil.
Place the garlic on a heavy bottomed pan or baking dish - we used a little Le Creuset frypan - cut side up. Drizzle olive oil over the bulb and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
The oil should catch in between the cloves. Cover with foil, and roast for 25 minutes - at this stage the garlic should be going golden and softening. Turn the garlic cut side down and re-cover. Roast for another 20 minutes. When the garlic's ready it should be really golden brown, caramelised and soft. It should look and smell delicious.
Allow to cool. Serve with a selection of charcuterie, hard cheese and crusty bread. The garlic needs to be served with other robust flavours. Spread the garlic on the bread, it will be sweet and delicious.
Roasted garlic is a delicious accompaniment to meat and cheese Photograph: Lauren Bamford