A few years ago, my husband had to travel to San Francisco for business. I came along to visit family in the area, and on the recommendation of a friend, we dined one evening at a restaurant called The Stinking Rose.
As you might have guessed, the establishment was known for its garlic-infused cuisine. We could smell it as soon as we walked in: the waiter brought out bread with a spread of parsley, oil and chopped fresh garlic that made our mouths (and eyes) water. This was followed by bagna cauda and mussels, served in sizzling skillets, a quarter chicken studded with forty whole cloves, and garlic-flavored ice cream (which is much nicer than it sounds; it had a mellow, nutty sweetness that was delightful.) About the only thing we didn't try was the garlic wine; we actually tried, but our waiter shook his head and said, "You don't want that."
The food was fabulous, and we stayed out very late, then took a cab back to the hotel and crashed for the evening. And then . . .
We awoke the next morning to the pungent smell of garlic, which is lovely when you're hungry for dinner but not so lovely when you're still bleary-eyed from the night before. Alas, the scent of our meal had saturated our clothes, hair and everything we'd touched the evening before. We showered twice, stripped the bed and quarantined our clothing in sealed plastic bags until we could get home to wash them (and even then, a week later, the odor had not dissipated.)
The moral of the story? Garlic is fantastic. Just be careful.
You already know, of course, that garlic is a necessity, the starting point for almost every sauce, soup and stock imaginable. Here, then are my favorite recipes in which garlic is the star.
- Bagna Cauda: Despite the effects of that fateful meal, this continues to be one of my favorite appetizers. It's incredibly easy: simply saute a tin of anchovies with four or five cloves of minced garlic and a fourth-cup each butter and olive oil. The anchovies will basically melt into the sauce, leaving only a pleasant saltiness, and the garlic will lose some of its pungency too. Serve with bread and / or vegetables for dipping.
- Roasted Garlic: My tried-and-true medley of roasted root vegetables is elevated with a handful of scattered garlic cloves thrown in. Things can get ugly as one family member after another realizes they are the best part of the dish, so be ready to break up a fight or two (it's worth it.) Or simply cut a slice from the top of a head of garlic, exposing the cloves; drizzle with olive oil and roast at 400, covered or tented with foil, until soft and browned. Squeeze the softened cloves out and spread on bread or add to sauces and soups.
- Boiled Water: When I first explored the most popular recipes on my How To Cook Everything app (hey, this wouldn't be my column if I didn't put in a plug for Mark Bittman) I thought this must be a joke. In actuality, it's a simple soup recipe that's about as easy as, well, boiled water -- which is why the Italians call it that. Start with 4 cups water, 10 cloves crushed garlic (smash it with the flat side of a knife -- this makes it easier to peel, too,) a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a skillet; add 4 slices of baguette and brown on both sides, for a total of about 5 minutes. Place each slice in a bowl and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese; strain the garlic stock over the top and garnish with chopped parsley.
- Garlic Bread: Basically, boiled water without the water: split a baguette and spread generously with butter, chopped garlic, Parmesan and chopped parsley. Make a sandwich and wrap in foil if you prefer soft bread, or place open-faced under the broiler if you like more crunch. Bake until it's done!
- Garlic Butter: Finely chop a few cloves garlic, some Kalamata olives and some pine nuts; stir into a stick of softened butter and refrigerate until firm. Perfect for sophisticated corn on the cob!
- Asian Shrimp Salad: This is one of my favorite light summer meals: pulse a handful of garlic cloves and a teaspoon of salt in the food processor until coarsely chopped; add two pounds of peeled, deveined shrimp and pulse a few more times until they're in small pieces but not pureed. Saute in vegetable oil until pink; cool and dress with lime juice, fish sauce, cayenne and a little brown sugar. Garnish with chopped peanuts and shallots; serve with cold rice noodles and a selection of raw or blanched vegetables, herbs and melon.
- Aioli: This garlic mayonnaise is great with both a burger and fries. It's pretty simple: 2 cloves garlic, an egg yolk, a generous pinch salt, and a half-cup olive oil. The easiest way to make it is in a food processor; puree the first three ingredients and add the oil through the feed tube until it's creamy. Aioli is an excellent backdrop for a variety of other flavorings, such as chipotle, curry and wasabi.