With our Elephant Garlic harvest beginning in earnest, we thought we should give our fellow garlic-lovers a quick run-down on this gargantuan bulb, and explain what we think makes it so special - to grow, to cook, and to eat!
WHAT IS ELEPHANT GARLIC?
The name refers to its elephantine size, which can seem eye-poppingly huge at first glance, being twice as large as regular garlic. But though its bulb-shape may look familiar, Elephant Garlic is closer in origin to the garden leek than true garlic with a reassuringly mild, palatable flavour.
Like garlic, the vast bulb is made up of big and individual cloves, which despite their supersized structure, have a surprisingly mellow taste. Although some fans like to eat Elephant Garlic raw, slicing the cloves finely into salads, as you might chives or spring onions, we think it is best enjoyed cooked.
HOW TO COOK IT
Thanks to its whopping size, Elephant Garlic makes a dramatic centrepiece when roasted whole; separate the cloves after cooking and let diners squeeze out the garlic flesh themselves to enjoy the warm, unctuous paste within. Or try cutting the whole bulb into segments and bake in a hot oven, drizzled with olive oil.
It also makes a delicious, creamy soup - just chop the cloves up, fry briefly and add some stock, seasoning, milk or cream, and a few potatoes to thicken.
A particular culinary delicacy are the of the Elephant Garlic plant. These immature green plant tops are incredibly tender and sweet - like asparagus, only better! Stir fry them slowly in a little oil or butter, add a splash of balsamic vinegar if you like, and plenty of salt and pepper; then dip in garlicky mayonnaise and you will be wishing that these gourmet delicacies were available all summer long.
GROW YOUR OWN
For those of you with the space and inclination to grow your own, Elephant Garlic makes an attractive addition to any garden, with gorgeous flower spikes up to 1.5 m tall. It likes full sun and moist conditions and should be planted during September-October ready to harvest the following June. Prepare the site by first clearing it of weeds and old plants, dig it over and work in some fertiliser. Plant each seed clove 20 cm from its neighbour, to give these mammoth cloves space to swell up into a monobulb. This typically splits into several, individual cloves and produces stunning flower spikes in late Spring. It's best to remove these (and eat the delicious scapes!), so that all the plant's energy is used to feed the bulb rather than the flower. By late June, you should have your own ripe Elephant Garlic, ready to be harvested and eaten.