The late Jeremy Round, formerly of these pages, wrote one of the most useful cookery books of all time (The Independent Cook, Barry and Jenkins), now out of print. My battered copy, with its yellowing pages, is a bible. The back of the book contains a table of fresh produce - fish, meat, poultry and game, cheese, fruit and vegetables - detailing their season and when they are at their best, for both home-grown and imported produce. Some 10 years on, there are aspects of this table that are out of date, but it remains one of the most reliable references at a time when many shopkeepers don't have have the foggiest idea what new-season means.
One vegetable that can hardly escape the phrase, given that it is only around for a couple of months of the year, is fresh garlic. In 1987, Round wrote that "fresh, mild, green garlic, popular around the Mediterranean - especially in Spain - is not available here through the retail trade". Now it is almost commonplace. Boxes of pearly white heads tinged with violet have been one of the greengrocer's best offerings during the past month.
The stem of fresh garlic is thick and juicy rather than the more familiar raffia-like wisp, and, providing it has only recently been harvested, it looks much like the stem of any other fresh plant. After a day or two it starts to dry out. It's still good at this point, but it's best eaten seriously fresh.
Fresh garlic's qualities are altogether different from the dried-out stuff. Garlic starts life crisp and juicy, with a startling clarity, and in the process of being dried acquires a more sultry, musty savour, becoming very much stronger. This makes the two types good for different things. The fresh one is milder, so don't be shocked by the six cloves recommended below in the baked potato, it is only half as strong as dried.
I love the way a head of green garlic breaks open into a mass of layers which peel away until you arrive at that pearly-white inner clove. Fresh doesn't behave like dried garlic, so there's no point in trying to put it through a garlic press or reducing it to a paste. Just slice or chop, and use an awful lot.
Baked potatoes filled with garlic and mozzarella, serves 4
This is based on aligot, a legendary puree of cheese and potatoes from the Auvergne which includes a generous quantity of garlic. It is traditionally made using Tomme fraiche de Cantal - an unsalted and unmatured version of Cantal, closest in texture to mozzarella, but I have never come across it over here. You could also use fontina or Gruyere, although the latter tends to overpower the new-season garlic. The poached egg is optional. The potatoes also go surprisingly well with plain roast chicken and salad, and sausages.
4 x 250g baking or maincrop potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt
700g maincrop potatoes, peeled
25g unsalted butter
6 cloves new season garlic, or three cloves of ordinary, finely chopped
400g buffalo mozzarella (drained weight), thinly sliced
white wine vinegar
4 large eggs
Heat the oven to 160C fan oven/ 170C or 325F electric oven/gas mark 3. Mark out a lid on the top of each potato using the tip of a sharp knife. Pour a little oil into the palm of your hand and lightly coat each potato. Place on a baking dish, sprinkle over some sea salt and bake for one-and-a-half hours. Remove and allow them to cool.
While the potatoes are baking, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the remaining potatoes for a mash until they are tender. Drain and press them through a sieve. Whisk in the butter, and once it has melted, add the milk, seasoning and garlic. Leave the puree to cool, then blend in the mozzarella.
Scoop out the insides of the baked potatoes and reserve for some other use. Be careful not to tear the skins in doing so as the filling is fairly runny - desirably so - once it's cooked and you don't want it to leak back into the baking dish. Fill the shells with the mash and replace the lids. You can prepare the potatoes to this point in advance. Reheat them in an oven heated to 180C fan over/ 190C or 375F electric oven/gas mark 5 for 25-30 minutes.
If you are serving the potatoes with poached eggs, bring a large pan of water to the boil, add a good slug of white wine vinegar, turn the heat down and keep the water at a trembling simmer.
Break the eggs, if using them, one at a time into a teacup. Gently stir the water into a whirlpool and drop the eggs into it. After about 2 minutes they will rise to the surface. Cook them for 2 minutes longer. Then remove them using a slotted spoon, trimming off the tendrils of white against the side of the saucepan.
Serve the potatoes with the poached egg nestling beneath the potato lidReuse content