Thursday, May 27, 2010

The fundamentals: garlic


I decided that every now and again, I’m going to write about one lone food item in all its glory, kind of a back to basics in a way. This idea started because while out at a function recently, I told people I write a food blog and each one of them asked, “Oh! What restaurants have you reviewed?”. Why did everyone automatically assume that I blog about restaurants? When I told them that, No, in fact I write about the food I make (and occasionally gripe about my mother), each and every one of them looked perplexed. It dawned on me that a lot of people either don’t cook or don’t know how to cook.

Which is actually great, in a way. Please go out and support your local restaurants, by all means! And I don’t mean any disrespect towards food bloggers who solely write about restaurant food. There’s definitely a huge market for that out there, and I enjoy reading those blogs. But treading water in the low tide of the economic ebb most of the time, I tend to cook at home a lot since it’s less expensive. The more you practice cooking, the better you’ll be at it.


Garlic has been long rumored to help fight heart disease, but that was debunked by a Stanford University study a few years back. It’s one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world; doctors and shamans have been using it to help cure a variety of ailments over the centuries. I’m not sure whether or not it truly helps heal anything in particular, but it is full of vitamins (B6 mostly) and is very healthy to eat. When buying garlic, choose firm heads that feel slightly heavier than they look, and don’t buy any that are spotty or have the papery hulls falling off all over the place. I enjoy using garlic in my cooking, and it is prevalent in the cuisine of Provence, where my mom’s family is from. I love to grate a raw clove on a microplane grater and add that to vinaigrette for salad. But what I especially love to do the most is to roast it.


Put a head of garlic on a cutting board and cut the top part off, exposing a few of the tips of clove heads. Now, here you can do one of two things. This fancy little clay dish with a lid pictured above is a garlic roaster. I’m not a huge fan of one-trick-pony utensils in the kitchen, but it was a gift, so I use it. Before using it, you must first soak it in a sinkful of water for about 15 minutes (both dish and lid). After you remove it from the water, put your guillotined garlic head on the dish, drizzle it with a smidgen of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, put the lid on and put it in a COLD oven. Only after you’ve closed the oven door should you turn on the oven heat to 350 degrees F or even 375 degrees F. Leave it in there for 45 minutes to an hour (your house will smell heavenly, and chances are you will too) then remove from the oven and let rest on a trivet, putting the lid to one side to cool.


If you don’t have a fancy garlic roaster, a piece of tin foil will do just fine. Just put the garlic head in the middle of it, give the garlic the same olive oil, salt, and pepper treatment as above, and wrap the garlic not too loosely but not too tightly either in the foil until you have a nice little shiny package.

Place it in a cold oven and roast at the same temperature and for the same time as above. When you remove it from the oven, let it sit on a trivet or plate but refrain from opening up the package, or else you’ll get garlic-infused steam burns. Not fun (trust me on that).


So now what? What should you do with all those cloves of roasted garlic which has scented your house so lovingly? You could mix a clove or two with a bit of mayo for a roasted garlic aïoli. A traditional aioli like my grandmother used to make uses raw garlic, but the roasted garlic will do just fine. Smoosh a clove of it into vinaigrette, or whip some into mashed potatoes. The food combination possibilities are endless. But my very favorite way to eat roasted garlic is to smoosh a clove on a slice of toasted baguette and sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top.


Roasted garlic keeps very well for about a week in the fridge. Leave it as is in a tightly covered Tupperware container, and as you need them, smoosh out a clove from its papery hull with your fingers (and wash your hands really well!)

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