- Green garlic season is over, but the farmers' markets right now have young garlic which I like much more. Young garlic has small heads (just one inch across) with distinct cloves which are not separated by dry, papery membranes. There are membranes but they are completely edible. They are usually sold with stems, scapes and flowers still attached. The flowers should not be opened.
I saw these in the farmers' market last saturday and of course I thought of moretum. I bought four of them and I made the moretum the next day.
Parenthetically the scapes can be used to make the easiest and tastiest stir fry you've ever made. Slice the scapes into 3/4" lengths, remove the stems from 5 oz. of cheap white button mushrooms and thickly slice the caps. Stir fry in 3 Tbs. of peanut oil until mushrooms have some color and smell very mushroomy. Plate and season with a little sea salt. The salt is the only seasoning and it is delicious.
Back to the Romans: the kind of cheese to use posed a dilemma. "...cheese is added, hard from taking up the salt" is what Virgil said. What does this mean? Soft cheese (I imagine) might mean cheese which doesn't keep its shape, which is easily spread on bread to give the bread savor. If my supposition is correct then "cheese... hard from taking up the salt" might be describing something similar to Bulgarian Feta.
I did initially intend to use Bulgarian Feta in my moretum but I eventually decided that a drier, harder cheese would be better. I've made alioli before (described by Pliny the Elder btw) and I know that pounded garlic is just liquid. I DID want to end up with something which could be formed into, well, a cheese ball. So I settled on Pecorino Toscano.
Fortunately there was a small bag of fresh rue leaves in the refrigerator, left over from our recent Roman feast and still good. :-)
The specific recipe is based on Mark Grant's ("Roman Cookery" pp. 68-69), but he uses too much vinegar and not enough olive oil. I alter the sequence in which ingredients are added, Virgil calls for the cheese to be added almost immediately, I add it at the last.
I did not have any fresh celery leaves, but I DID have some dried celery leaves, and I used them all. Unfortunately I didn't weigh them before chopping them up...
Four young garlic bulbs from the farmers market, stems, scapes and flowers still attached, flowers not opened, individual cloves not separated by dry papery membranes. Each bulb only one inch across. Raw of course.
1/2 teaspoon or so kosher salt
3 tablespoons (not four) champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons (not two) top quality olive oil
30 g fresh coriander leaves and stems, minced very fine (about one third of a bunch)
7.5 g fresh rue leaves and small stems, minced very fine
4 g (?) dried celery leaves (about 20) minced very fine
7.5 oz. Pecorino Toscano cheese, grated fine
Did not even attempt to separate, much less peel, individual cloves (there was a baseball game on and I was in a hurry). Bulbs topped and tailed, exterior membranes of bulbs with "ribbed" appearance removed.
Pounded with salt.
Proceeded as if making alioli: Added all vinegar at once, added olive oil a quarter or half teaspoon at a time, continually stirring clockwise with the pestle.
All olive oil added and it was a nice emulsion. Added all herbs. Pounded and pounded some more.
Added cheese. Pounded. Wicked with finger. Formed into a ball. Licked fingers. Washed hands. Covered and tossed into refrigerator (it was late).
Preliminary impressions formed from licking fingers:
Extremely good! Tasty and savory! Better than any cheese dip (or cheese ball...) I've ever had! Neither too bitter nor too salty nor, IMO, too alliaceous (albeit I do have garlic in my soul). Only one small complaint... despite reducing vinegar from four tablespoons to three tablespoons, it was still a little too vinegary!
. . .
I was busy the next night, I eventually got to try it on bread more than 40 hours later. Just some simple white rolls from Zaro's Bread Basket. The emulsion had held up nicely (no doubt the herbs and hard cheese helped a lot). No liquid had separated from the ball. Not a drop. This alone made me feel pretty good.
The garlic had a strong presence but it was not harsh or unpleasant in any way. Smooth, even creamy. In fact it was hard to tell where the cheese stopped and where the galic began!
The vinegar had mellowed somewhat while in the refrigerator. When spread on bread (as intended) it did not seem vinegary at all. It wasn't bitter either (I had to really think about it to taste the rue, and I thought I had used a lot).
My final verdict is that it is good and worth making... but maybe too dry? It doesn't really want to stick to bread? If I can find such good young garlic again this summer, I'll experiment with using Bulgarian Feta instead. :-)