Originating more than 6,000 years ago in central Asia, garlic took the culinary world by storm, spreading from culture to culture. It is used in cuisines on all the world’s continents and is one of America’s most popular herbs*.
A member of the onion genus, Allium (the Latin word for garlic), garlic’s cousins include chives, green onions/scallions, leeks, onions, and shallots. Its botanical family, Amaryllidaceae, comprises flowering plants, most grown from bulbs (including, not surprisingly, the amaryllis).
Garlic is not only a delicious flavor to many people; it is also one of the healthiest foods you can eat. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, boost the immune system, and may even fight Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Here’s more on the health benefits of garlic.
The most common use of garlic involves crushing or mincing a few cloves and adding the raw garlic to a recipe. But you can cook entire bulbs or whole cloves of garlic as a side or a garnish to please your favorite garlic lovers.
There are two principal ways to do this, each delivering different flavors and textures. Roasting an entire head of garlic is the simpler of the methods.
Both produce a rich, sweet, mellow flavor that appeals even to people who don’t like the flavor of garlic in recipes.
*An herb is a plant that is used to flavor or scent other foods.
RECIPE #1: ROASTED GARLIC
A head of roasted garlic is served as a hearty side with roasted meats and poultry.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F.
2. CREATE a “hinge” on the top of the garlic bulb/head by slicing horizontally into it. Stop before you cut completely through. Then close the hinge and wrap the entire head in aluminum foil.
3. PLACE the packet in the oven and bake for at least 45 minutes. It’s ready when you can squeeze the bottom of the bulb and the sweet, caramel-colored garlic oozes out the top.
RECIPE #2: GARLIC CONFIT
Confit is a method of preservation whereby a food (usually meat, as in duck confit) is cooked slowly in fat. It is then submerged and stored in the fat, where it will last for months.
You can adapt the technique to garlic. Using peeled garlic cloves instead of the whole bulb, the confit method develops a flavor similar to roasting, but is more conducive to using as a garnish.
Use the garlic confit as a topping or side garnish for meat, poultry and grilled fish; with eggs; to top burgers and sandwiches; as part of a condiment tray with pickles; or any way that inspires you.
The garlic-flavored oil that remains in the dish after cooking is a quick flavor booster in almost any recipe that requires oil—including a vinaigrette for the meal’s salad course, or bread-dipping, or marinades. We like to use it in mashed potatoes and to cook eggs.
You can freeze or refrigerate the confit for future use, so don’t hesitate to make a large batch at once. Bring some to garlic-loving friends.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F.
2. PEEL the garlic cloves: First soak the unpeeled cloves in cold water for five minutes to loosen the skin. Slice off the root and tip with a sharp paring knife, then use the tip to lift off the papery skin.
3. PLACE the peeled garlic cloves in an oven-safe dish with high sides, then cover completely with olive oil. You can also add aromatics to the oil—chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme—lemon zest, or chiles.
4. COVER and bake for at least an hour, or until the cloves become soft enough to squish between your fingers. Remove from the oven and drain the oil into an airtight jar or other container. Store in the fridge.