Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Serpent Garlic or Going to seed at 5 am

                                                   Serpent Garlic or Going to Seed at 5 am

Top garlic crop this year. This is about half of it and it triggered a memory of an early morning foray to Footscray wholesale market in 2003. A version of this story appeared in the Weekend Australian in a shared column called Chop Chop .
In those days I used to go out to the wholesale market regularly to see what was passing through that our suppliers were not using. I found myself looking for seed garlic. There was also a great farm equipment merchant there that had good bulk vegetable seeds for sale and you could get past security if you said you were going to Fairbanks to buy seeds. [Doesn’t work anymore]
 We had been out for a big night on the town and I was dressed more for the theatre than the farm but one of the best breakfasts going at 5am in Melbourne  in 2003 was there at the wholesale market. After a big breakfast with the lot and a large strong old school coffee  I began to ask a few wholesalers if they had any garlic seed for sale and eventually after some rather strange looks [I thought it was the suit at 5 am] told just to go and see Tony at the Western corner of the market.  The only seed stock he had available looked strange, already shooting [a good sign as lots of garlic is treated] but slightly different with a stalk in the centre of the heads. The stallholder politely asked if I would care to look out the back where he had some special seed. He showed me a small box covered with a hessian bag that contained two small pistols  I very politely declined  feeling decidedly seedy myself, I quickly  bought two boxes of sprouting garlic and left. It must have been the suit.
Over the years we have established a simple method of cultivation. After planting in June we mulch lightly and when the shoots are about six inches tall we mulch very heavily: it does not tolerate competition. That year as the crop grew a strong flower shoot began to develop, twisted in whiplash forms like a Mucha sketch. We had planted Rocambole or the Serpent Garlic.
Great to see so much good Australian garlic at the market now. 
Buy your seed garlic  now don’t wait till June when it will be very scarce. 
You reap what you plant, its a colning thing. Big cloves will give large heads. The flavour is better if it struggles a little at the end and is well dried in the sun.


This soup echoes the flavours of Catalonia. The seafood is optional.

Serves six 
20 cloves garlic unpeeled
1 kg ripe juicy tomatoes roughly chopped
3 medium red peppers de-veined and de-seeded but not skinned [ they will come out later.]
1 tea spoon crushed fennel seed 1 tablespoon orange zest grated
1 small chili de seeded and chopped
½ tea spoon sugar, 1 glass red wine [not too heavy]
 A good pinch sea salt and black pepper. Water to taste.
2 bay leaves, pinch pure saffron powder, pinch of cinnamon 
A splash of fine olive oil
12 baby octopus. [cleaned]
Place all above ingredients except the baby octopus in a heavy non- reactive baking dish. Cover with lid or seal with foil.
Cook in a moderate oven at 160C for 1 hr.
Remove bay leaves and pass through a mouli or strainer, adjust seasoning.
Place in a stainless steel saucepan add cleaned, washed baby octopus and gently simmer in the broth for 15 min with the lid on.
Taste, season and serve with crusty bread rubbed with garlic and a ripe tomato.

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