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California: Sunday at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market

My weekends aren’t typical weekends.

They don’t include plans to hit the bars, spend hours shopping, or sleep in late. I like to keep my weekends free and airy, taking the time to wake up early and get some solid work in. The hangover just isn’t my thing. But there is one event I will plan for, one mainstay my weekends keep in steady rotation: the Hollywood farmers’ market.

Living in southern California, I have my pick of farmers’ markets on any given day of the week. Year-round, these markets are always ripe with seasonal fruits, veggies, meats, dairy products, and enough a la minute food stands to keep me trying a new snack each time I visit. Yet the Hollywood farmers’ market wins me over, because on Sunday morning, from roughly the hours of 8 am until 2 pm, the neighborhood experiences an unusual transformation.

Normally a grimy, smelly, less desirable part of the greater Los Angeles, Hollywood becomes something else on a Sunday morning — at least around the intersection of Vine and Ivar, where the market is  held. The most beautiful foods, plants, and crafts come to life there, and equally beautiful people come from all around the city to bask in the enjoyment of the event.

Sometimes I prepare a shopping list before I head out to the market, making a feeble attempt to plan a week’s menu for myself. (The sad irony is that while I create weekly menus elsewhere for a living, I rarely do the same for myself.) These weeks, I fill my canvas bag so full of foods that by the time I get back to my kitchen, my shoulders ache from carrying the load. Other weeks, I simply hop out of bed, down a warm cup, and head out with only my wallet and bag — usually I wind up bringing home a similar melange of foods on those weeks, so it all seems to even out.

I’ll be bringing my camera and notebook out to the market in the weeks to come, as a means of highlighting the seasonal abundance that can be found in the Pacific southwest (and most of the rest of the country), and maybe catching a word with some of the vendors that are the heart and soul of the farmers’ market.

This week, something I just had to share was a marvelous vegetable that had my eyes transfixed — I couldn’t look away!

It was the display of elephant  garlic, sitting mounted on the produce table with huge bulbs just falling off of each other. I did a double, no, triple take at the mound — I’ve seen and cooked with the stuff before, but these may have been the grandest looking bulbs I’ve ever come across.

For those new to the vegetable, elephant garlic, allium ampeloprasum, is not actually garlic, but a closer relative of the leek. Just as the leek is a softer, sweeter version of the onion, elephant garlic is a softer and sweeter version of regular garlic. As you can see, elephant garlic is quite large. Each “head” is typically just a single clove or two, but it equates to the size of an entire bulb of regular garlic.

Because it tastes like a milder garlic, elephant garlic is appropriate for people who:

1) don’t like garlic.

OR

2) love garlic.

If you’re not a garlic fan, using elephant garlic in your recipes results in a less pungent flavor that may be more suitable for your palette. But if you happen to love garlic (present company included), you can cook with and eat elephant garlic whole. Sliced and sauteed, roasted in the oven, pureed into soups — elephant garlic can the star in the story of your meal.

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

  • Sonya

    I was given 2 elephant garlic cloves by my friend in Napa Valley who gardens for the French Laundry. They’ve been sitting in the fridge for a month because I was traveling, but I fully intend on cooking them with your recipes.

    Thanks!! :)

  • kim

    Glad to be of help!

    When I first started using elephant garlic a few years back, I was under the mindset of “bigger equals more flavor” because I didn’t know better — you can imagine how disappointed I was when I got home and these jumbo garlic bulbs tasted so mild! Once I understood the difference between these and regular garlic, I figured how they are better used in their own recipes, as well, that accentuate the sweet, mild flavor they possess.

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