By Linda Bassett
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Garlic gives flavor and character to Mexican, Asian and southern Mediterranean foods. And right now it’s in season and at its peak. Californians in the town of Gilroy celebrate the harvest with a festival complete with music, booths featuring garlic recipes, and fork-to-fork contests.
I buy my favorite garlic from a produce market where I know the owner gets the freshest stuff available every day of the week. I use it in abundance at this time of year. My favorite menus hail from southern Italy, but from time to time, I will cook something from Vietnam or Cambodia or Japan that features garlic. And I collect garlic facts included here. Here are 20 things to know about garlic. Some useful, some just for fun.
1. Garlic is a vegetable, a cousin to scallions, leeks, shallots, and onions.
2. Soft stem, white garlic, is available at supermarkets year round.
3. Hard stem garlic, with pale purple stripes, is available at farm stands, farmers markets and specialty produce stores in summer and early autumn.
4. Elephant garlic is a different animal. Big and fierce looking, it is milder than true garlic. You can substitute it, but never confuse it with the real thing.
5. Garlic scapes look like scallions, taste very mild. They are early shoots before the bulb matures, delicious thinly sliced on the diagonal and tossed in green salads for a surprise flavor. Otherwise, use them like scallions. Find them at farm stands, farmers markets and specialty produce markets.
6. Cooks’ proverb: “Garlic is the ketchup of intellectuals.” Makes you feel kind of sophisticated.
7. A whole garlic bulb is also called a “head.” Each separate section is a “clove.”
8. A garlic bulb should have tight-fitting skin, and plump and firm cloves.
9. Buy garlic whole and loose. It is not meant to be stuffed into a tiny cardboard box with a brother or sister, where it sweats. Repeat: Buy garlic whole and loose. It is not meant to be separated, peeled and put in a jar to grow bacteria.
10. Face it, we don’t use as much garlic at home as a professional kitchen. Buy small amounts, or one day you’ll open the refrigerator and pass out from the stench.
11. Don’t buy garlic with soft spots, brown spots or big green sprouts.
12. Some garlic cloves have a green sprout in the center. Cut the clove in half and dig it out with the point of a paring knife.
13. Store garlic in a bowl on the refrigerator shelf, letting air flow around them. Many cookbooks advise storing them on the kitchen counter, but most kitchens are too warm and too sunny. Garlic doesn’t take well to either one.
14. One way to peel a large amount of whole cloves for a recipe is by blanching in boiling water, then shocking in ice water, then slipping the skins off one by one.
15. Another way to peel many cloves to use whole is to put them into a stainless steel bowl or pot with a cover, then shaking really, really hard, so they knock against the steel and one other until the skins slip off.
16. When you sauté garlic, stop at golden. Browned garlic is burned garlic, the whiff of bitter you catch outside a cheap Italian restaurant.
17. The best way to peel a single clove (or two) to be sliced, chopped, or minced into a recipe is to put it on a flat surface, press down hard with the flat side of a knife until the skin splits and can be slipped off — or more realistically pull it off with finger nails.
18. Garlic is mild, even sweet, when cooked whole with its skin on, as in an oven-roasted whole bulb.
19. Garlic is strongest when sliced, chopped, or minced, then cooked at medium-high heat in oil, as in scampi, a staple of Italian restaurants.
20. When garlic is used to flavor oil for a recipe, warm the oil it in the skillet or sauté pan, toss in the clove or cloves, and walk them around in the heat until they turn golden and fragrant. Then take them out with a slotted spoon and throw them away.
21. To roast a whole head of garlic, first take off a layer of the outer skin, but not all of it. Then take a thin crosswise slice off the top. Put it in a small baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and a little chicken or vegetable stock. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for a little over an hour. Baste with the liquid once or twice during cooking. Take the cloves off singly to squeeze out of their skins onto buttered baguettes.
GARLIC-AND-GINGER SAUCE FOR FISH
Enough for 4 servings of fish fillets or steaks
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1. Heat the peanut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger. Cook stirring, until garlic begins to color.
2. Stir in the soy sauce and sesame oil. Keep warm to drizzle over broiled fish.
GARLICKY BROCCOLI RABE
Makes 4 servings
Find this where good fresh produce is sold. Sometimes called “baby broccoli” or “broccolini,” they are really turnip tops with tiny flowers that look like broccoli heads.
1 bunch broccoli rabe
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1. Trim the broccoli rabe stems. Chop the stalks coarsely.
2. Pour about 1/2-inch of water into a large skillet. Bring to a boil; add salt, then broccoli rabe; cook for 2 minutes, until barely tender. Drain; shock in cool water; drain again.
3. Wipe the skillet dry with a clean towel. Put over medium heat, adding the olive oil and garlic, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the greens, and salt. Cook for 2 minutes until the oil and garlic flavor the greens. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.
Kitchen Call: 21 things to know about garlic
By Linda Bassett