garlic in hand

Scenes from a garlic education:

I. Jude invites me to dinner. She’s chopping garlic cloves and throwing them into a pan of slowly melting butter, which she pours over half a baguette. The cloves are pungent. Slightly crunchy. I happily reek of garlic all night.

II. I take Ginny to the lovely Mise en Place in Tampa for her birthday. Our amuse-bouche is a head of soft, roasted garlic. We squeeze the sweet, slightly smoky cloves onto bread and happily reek all night.

III. A Greek friend introduces me to skordalia, describing it as mashed potatoes with garlic pulp. It’s actually garlic pulp with the merest bit of mashed potato. I take leftovers to the newsroom and stink up the place for the rest of the evening. (I’m happy. I’m not sure my coworkers are.)

A little context:

When I was growing up, garlic was a powder. It came in a glass or plastic jar, and you measured it (along with onion salt, usually) into recipes dubbed “Italian.” I can’t remember ever seeing a head of the real stuff in my mother’s kitchen. It certainly didn’t grace mine in the first few apartments I rented after college.

But boy, it does now. Heads of garlic loll along my kitchen counter. Containers of garlic — roasted and mashed — fill the shelves of my fridge. It’s all garlic, all the time around here, and my cooking is all the better for it.

Garlic is an ancient allium. It’s one of the things the Israelites missed when they fled their captivity in Egypt.

It’s a healthful allium, too. Garlic bulbs are drenched in potassium, iron and zinc. Their sulphur compounds are thought to help fight bacteria and viruses. Some people even call garlic an aphrodisiac. (Although there is that smell …)

I usually buy plain supermarket garlic or organic cloves from Trader Joe’s if I’m feeling punchy. But heirloom varieties are springing up at farmers’ markets and seed companies. A quick scan through the High Mowing Seeds catalog shows a plethora of garlic I’d like to grow myself: Rose-colored Silver Rose; purple-striped Chesnok Red; the brand-new Spanish Roja.

How do we use all this garlic?

As a flavor base in soups, of course, along with onions and other spices. And as the first ingredient to grace the food processor when making hummus or pesto.

Cream cheese and minced garlic form the base of these fresh veggie tartines.
Cream cheese and minced garlic form the base of these fresh veggie tartines.
pesto bread
Minced garlic, basil and pine nuts turn a loaf of white bread into a take on pesto bread.

But the bulb can be used for so much more:

  1. Try kneading minced, raw garlic into your pizza crusts or bread doughs before baking.
  2. Mince a clove and fold it into cream cheese or mayonnaise for a zestier, spicier sandwich spread.
  3. Temper it in a little red wine vinegar, then add it to your usual salad vinaigrettes.
  4. Lightly brown whole cloves in olive oil or butter, then remove them before adding the ingredients your recipe calls for.
  5. Rub a cut clove over grilled or toasted bread, then top with scrambled eggs.

Garlic’s real virtues, however, come out when it’s roasted. I like to roast two or three heads on the weekends, then use the pulp throughout the week. (Keep it stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator.)

Our favorite ways to use roasted garlic:

  1. Spread the pulp on the bottom of a savory pie or tart crust, then top with vegetables, cheeses or eggs and bake.
  2. Whisk a tablespoon or so into soups in lieu of the minced garlic you usually use. You’ll get a sweeter, deeper flavor.
  3. Whisk a small amount into your favorite vinaigrette recipe. Again, you’ll get a different depth of flavor.
  4. Stir the pulp of an entire head of garlic into mashed potatoes or other pureed root vegetables.
  5. Whisk roasted garlic into vegetables as you’re sauteeing them. This is particularly good with the sweet corn that’s so plentiful in garden markets right now.
  6. Spread roasted garlic on toasted bread and top with fresh tomatoes, bacon and lettuce. (A BLTG sandwich!)

One caveat: Be sure your garlic doesn’t overcook. If it burns, it becomes bitter (inedible, really). Treat it gently, and you’ll happily reek every night.

Roasted Garlic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place 1 head of garlic on a piece of tinfoil. Drizzle with olive oil. Tightly fold up the foil.

Place the wrapped garlic in a baking pan. Roast for about an hour, checking after 40 minutes to ensure your garlic cloves don’t burn. The head should be soft when pierced with a fork.

Cool completely, then unwrap. Squeeze the pulp into a container and mash well with a fork. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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