Comforting or Trendy, Garlic Wards off Blandness

They used to call it “the stinking rose.” And its reputation for warding off vampires has outlasted people’s actual belief in vampires.

Not all that long ago, as these things go, garlic was considered almost an exotic ingredient in this country. Fannie Farmer’s monumentally influential and best-known cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, does not mention it at all in the 1924 edition, not even in her recipes for spaghetti.

By the time of the 1964 edition of the equally influential Joy of Cooking, garlic was considered “perhaps the most controversial addition to food.” Authors Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker boast of learning to use it “discreetly,” and snicker that “our guests have sometimes been obviously relishing and unawarely eating food with garlic in it -- while inveighing loudly against it.”

But now garlic has come into its own, and then some. Surely it is one of the most popular ingredients for flavoring foods today, after salt and pepper. Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse reliably could elicit ooohs and ahhhs of approval or even applause from his studio audience just by adding garlic to any recipe; he, more than anyone, brought garlic all the way into the mainstream.

Now it often is available fresh at farmers’ markets; unlike the traditional dried version, fresh garlic is moist and practically bursting with juice.

Though it has a strong, unmistakable flavor, the humble garlic is remarkably versatile. For a sharp, pungent application, cook it quickly at high heat; for softer, warm undertones that can even approach a mellow nuttiness, cook it at length at a low temperature. For a strong, piquant bite, add it to dishes raw, minced, and in small amounts.

Over the last 25 years or so, garlic has been at the forefront of several of the most important food trends. In the mid-’80s, when restaurants first wanted the appearance of being healthy, some moved away from offering butter and instead provided spreadable, slow-roasted garlic for the bread. Fist-sized terracotta pots specifically intended for roasting garlic still are available at some kitchen stores.

At about the same time, the success of a pair of tourist-oriented California restaurants called The Stinking Rose led to a national infatuation with the restaurants’ signature dish, the 40-clove garlic chicken -- a whole chicken cooked literally with 40 cloves of garlic, but at such a low heat that the garlic never overwhelmed the flavor of the chicken.

In the ‘90s, chefs decided to go back to the basics, taking familiar dishes from the culture of American diners and cafeterias and then making them fancier and more elegant. It was the chefs’ take on comfort food -- a phrase that gained popularity at the same time -- and where would the food cognoscenti of the ‘90s be without the inescapable dish of garlic mashed potatoes?

The most recent decade saw a shift in the opposite direction, toward new and previously unthinkable applications of ingredients. Soon, garlic found its way as a flavor of ice cream. Then, when food trendsetters rediscovered cocktails and began looking for new ways to flavor alcohol, they quickly settled on garlic vodka as a new twist for bloody marys.

And poor garlic has not even been spared the newest high-end restaurant trend, molecular gastronomy. Chefs as acclaimed as Joel Robuchon are now experimenting with garlic foam, in which the garlic has been turned into its essence and the essence has been turned into bubbles.

Nothing that fancy for our most elemental -- and on some level, most satisfying -- of recipes. Spaghetti ajo e ojo often is served as a great side dish because it pairs with practically any Italian main course, but it really became popular in the 1960s as the chic thing to eat in Rome late at night after an evening of drinking and carousing.

Leave it to chef Charlie Trotter, the groundbreaking owner of the renowned Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago, to find a way to make his roasted garlic even more mellow than roasted garlic usually is. Before roasting, he draws out the harshest elements by simmering it in milk. He then purees the roasted garlic in chicken broth. The result is a sauce for fine grilled steak (he pairs it with tenderloin) that any cook can make at home.

Our Roast Chicken with Garlic recipe is a version of the 40-clove garlic chicken. It, too, comes from San Francisco, which is not surprising when you realize how close that city is to Gilroy, Calif., the garlic capital of America, where trucks filled with garlic rumble down the highway leaving a fragrant cloud in their wake. This recipe benefits from two great secrets of cooking chicken -- brining it first, and roasting it breast side up and then breast side down to keep the meat moist all the way through.

And finally, we offer one method of serving garlic that still is considered unusual even though it has been served in this country for at least 30 years: Garlic soup. Remember that garlic is an aromatic that is used much like onion, and few soups are as popular as onion soup. Garlic soup is much the same idea; the garlic is cooked for a fairly long time (but not nearly as long as onions for onion soup), which neutralizes any harsh flavors and brings out the plant’s natural sweetness.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.


Spaghetti Ajo e Ojo

1 pound spaghetti or thin spaghetti

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of salted water on high heat. Make the sauce while you wait for it to boil and while you boil the spaghetti.

Add the olive oil and butter to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper to taste (in Rome, they like it very spicy). Cook until the garlic turns golden, then remove and discard the garlic.

When the pasta is done, drain it and place it in a large bowl. Add the garlic-infused oil and the parsley, and toss well. Serve hot with generous amounts of Parmesan cheese, to taste.

Yield: 4 servings

Roasted Garlic Sauce for Grilled Beef

2 cups whole milk

2 large heads of garlic, top 1/3 trimmed to expose cloves

1/2 cup (or more) olive oil, or more

1/2 cup (or more) low-salt chicken broth

1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed, or other good steak

2 tablespoons olive oil for steak

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine milk and garlic in small saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat 10 minutes. Drain; discard milk. Place garlic heads, cut side up, in small ovenproof dish. Pour 1/2 cup oil over the garlic. Cover dish tightly with foil. Bake until garlic is soft, about 55 minutes. Remove garlic from oil; cool. Pour oil from dish into measuring cup; add more oil if necessary to measure 1/2 cup total. Squeeze out garlic from peel into blender. Add olive oil and 1/2 cup broth; puree until smooth, thinning with more broth if desired. Season with salt and pepper. This sauce can be made one day ahead, refrigerated, and then rewarmed over medium-low heat.

Rub the beef all over with oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill beef to desired doneness. Remove from grill and let stand 5 minutes. Cut beef crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices and serve with the garlic sauce.

Yield: 2-4 servings

Source: Bon Appétit, by Charlie Trotter

Roast Chicken with Garlic

1/4 cup PLUS 2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt

1 chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds

1 large bunch thyme

1 lemon, washed and pierced all over with a knife

1-2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic bulbs, pointed tops cut off

1/4 cup cognac

Freshly cracked black pepper

Mix together the salt and 6 cups warm water in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, stirring until the salt dissolves. Refrigerate or let the water cool completely at room temperature.

Remove any excess fat from the chicken. Place the chicken in the cooled salted water and place another water-filled bowl on top to keep the chicken submerged in the brine. If more liquid is needed to cover the chicken, add more water and salt at a ratio of 1 tablespoon salt to 1 cup water. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours (any longer will make the chicken too salty).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat completely dry. Put the thyme and lemon inside the cavity of the bird. Heat a large heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil. When the butter stops sizzling and turns brown, place the chicken in the skillet, breast side down, and sauté, shaking the skillet gently back and forth so that the skin does not stick, until the breast side of the chicken is well browned. Turn the bird on one side and brown well, then turn and brown on the opposite side.

Turn the bird breast side up, scatter the garlic around the chicken, and put it in the oven. Roast for 20 minutes (25 minutes for 3? pounds), then turn breast side down and continue roasting for another 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced. Transfer the chicken to a warmed serving platter, remove and set aside the lemon, and cut the chicken into quarters.

Pour any fat out of the skillet. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice into the skillet, and add cognac and any juices that have run off the chicken, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce the liquid in the pan by half and swirl in 1 tablespoon butter if desired. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with cracked pepper.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Adapted from The Rose Pistola Cookbook

Garlic Soup

1/3 cup PLUS 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 large boneless slices of smoked ham hocks

20 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon flour

2 1/2 quarts beef stock OR chicken stock

2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped fine

1 sprig fresh thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 egg yolks

Country bread, optional

Gruyere cheese, grated, optional

In a large saucepan, sauté the ham slices in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until they are golden on both sides. Put the ham aside and, if you want to make sandwiches to go with the soup, cover with foil. Place the crushed garlic in the same pan and sauté it slowly over medium or medium-low heat, not letting it brown. Add the flour, mix, and continue sautéing until it absorbs the fat.

Pour in the stock and the tomatoes, add the thyme, a little salt, and a lot of pepper, and bring the soup to boil for 15 minutes. Beat the egg yolks with ? cup olive oil in a tureen or large bowl and gradually pour in the hot soup, stirring as you do.

If you like, serve sandwiches on the side made from slices of the bread covered with the Gruyere cheese, browned in a 375° oven, and then topped with the ham.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Adapted from the ITC Typeface Directory Alphabet Soups


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