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OVEN-OR GRILL-ROASTED GARLIC — HALVED AND ROASTED HEADS, CUT-SIDES DOWN: As delightful and delicious as whole roasted heads of garlic are, well, they’re a bit messy, if you’re serving them as an appetizer. Trying to wrangle the tender morsels of garlic out of their sturdy skins can lead to disaster. A far more graceful approach than forcing diners to squirt a tender clove of garlic from the grasp of its outer peel is to offer heads that are basically pre-snipped. The roasted cloves can literally be squeezed out from the head. Because you bake the halves cut side down, in little puddles of olive oil, there’s more browning and caramelizing going on, which makes them deliciously rich in flavor and texture.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Alternatively, light your grill and preheat to medium heat. Prepare the heads by cutting them in half horizontally (through the plumpest portion), keeping each half intact (some of the cloves might try to escape, just snuggle them back into the head). Place the heads, cut side down, in a baking pan or on a foil pan with the edges folded up to contain any oil drips. Pour a puddle of olive oil on the surface. Be sure to leave about ½-inch of breathing room around each half. Bake the garlic, uncovered, for 25 to 40 minutes, depending on the size and age of the heads, until the cloves are a rich golden brown on the bottom. Garlic juices will be oozing and browning around the edges of each clove. After the garlic has roasted and cooled, squeeze and pry the cloves from the head into a small bowl.

To make a paste: Partially mash the cloves with a fork (leave visible chunks, or even a few whole cloves, just like you would make a rough-textured guacamole), adding some of the oil (and cooked-on caramelized juice) from the pan. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, for 2 to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to 5 or 6 months.

OVEN- OR GRILL-ROASTED GARLIC CLOVES — The finished preparation is a bit stronger in flavor than what you get from Halved and Roasted Heads, and when turned into a paste, won’t be quite as creamy.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Alternatively, preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high. Over a medium-hot burner, heat ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Add about 1 to 3 cups of peeled garlic cloves and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt and about ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Let the cloves steep and simmer in the oil until they just begin to change color, about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a roasting dish (or if grilling, onto a foil pan that you have folded and created sides), and continue roasting in the preheated oven or grill until the cloves are golden brown, yet still soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool. (Note: you could skip the stove-top step, but your total roasting time will be increased by about 20 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool. Store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to 5 or 6 months. These are great additions to toss into salads, mashed potatoes, or even meat loafs.

Alternatively, to make an Oven-Roasted Garlic Cloves Paste, spoon the roasted cloves into a small bowl and coarsely mash with a fork, adding some of the oil from the pan to reach the desired consistency. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to 5 or 6 months.

Simple Appetizer of Roasted Garlic Cloves with Cheese

As a simple make-ahead appetizer, roasted garlic cloves are marvelous. Up to several days before your party, roast a large quantity of peeled garlic cloves (as described in “Oven-Roasted Garlic — Individual Cloves”); don’t mash them with a fork, as described in the last step of this recipe. A few hours before your guests arrive, simply skewer each clove with a toothpick, then anchor the pointy ends of each pick into small cubes of cheese (my favorites include: Havarti, mozzarella, extra-aged Gouda, and Jarlsburg).

Roasted Garlic Dipping Sauce with Fresh Ginger and Soy Sauce

Makes about 2½ cups

I served this wonderful dipping sauce at a wine dinner one summer for 150 people. Large platters of the sauce were surrounded by slices of freshly baked artisan breads. What a treat!

•1 large head fresh garlic

•2 cups extra virgin olive oil, divided

•½  cup balsamic vinegar

•1 tablespoon soy sauce

•2 teaspoons freshly shredded/grated ginger root

•½  teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Prepare the garlic for roasting by cutting it in half horizontally (through the plumpest portion of the cloves), keeping each half intact. Place the halves, cut sides down, in a baking dish, layered with ¼ cup of the olive oil. Roast in a 350 degree oven until tender and golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

To assemble the sauce, squeeze the garlic bulbs from the skins back into the roasting dish with the roasting oil. Smash the cloves into small bits (leaving some in chunks is perfectly OK). Scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in the vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil. Add the remaining 1¾ cups olive oil. Can be prepared several days ahead and refrigerated. Bring the sauce to room temperature before serving. Ladle into shallow platters and surround with chunks or slices of good quality, crusty bread.

Consider serving with a dry-style Gewurztraminer. There are many lovely ones produced in the mid-Willamette Valley, such as Tyee Wine Cellars, Lumos Wine Company, and, Airlie Winery. If you’d like to include a red, go with a nice fruity Rogue Valley Syrah. Abacela and Del Rio Vineyards both produce wonderful ones.

BLUE CHEESE VARIATION: Just before serving, gently heat the sauce in a skillet until warmed through. Pour the mixture into shallow platters and sprinkle with about 8 ounces of crumbled blue cheese (divide that amount of cheese between the platters). The cheese will melt slightly and merge with the sauce. In this variation, a sturdy Pinot Gris or a Cabernet Sauvignon with be a wonderful compliment to the earthy flavors in the blue cheese.

Roasted Garlic Spread

First of all, you don’t really need to do anything to a batch of roasted garlic to make it fit for company. But for an extra bit of flavor without a lot of extra work, here’s a tasty alternative. And just like plain, unadulterated roasted garlic, this one’s a wonderful mixture to have on hand for simple appetizers with crostini, toasted pita bread, or thin slices of baguette.

•About 1 cup roasted garlic paste (prepare as described above for “Halved and Roasted Cut-sides Down” or Oven Roasted Garlic Cloves Paste)

•1 tablespoon Ponzu (a citrus-seasoned soy sauce made by Kikkoman)

•Dash of Tabasco sauce

•Additional olive oil if necessary

Gently stir together the roasted garlic, the Ponzu, and a dash of Tabasco. Don’t stir too vigorously, it’s nice to leave some chunks of unadulterated roasted garlic. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 5 or 6 months.

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

•¼ cup Roasted Garlic Paste (prepare as described above for “Halved and Roasted Cut-sides Down” or Oven Roasted Garlic Cloves Paste)

•1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar

•½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

•Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In small bowl, whisk together the Roasted Garlic Paste with the vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette

Burgers with Roasted Garlic

•2 pounds ground chuck

•About ½ teaspoon salt and healthy pinch of freshly ground black pepper

•About 1/3 cup Roasted Garlic Paste (prepare as described above for “Halved and Roasted Cut-sides Down” or Oven Roasted Garlic Cloves Paste)

•4 Good quality crusty hamburger buns or 8 slices of a crusty bread

•Various condiments: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, guacamole, ketchup, pickles...

Combine the ground meat with the salt, pepper, and Roasted Garlic Paste. Form the mixture into 4 patties. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to grill.

Meanwhile, preheat a gas or charcoal grill.Grill the burners over a hot fire until medium (with no pink remaining) doneness.

Serve immediately on the buns, with condiments on the side. Makes 4 servings.

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