Years ago, when my youngest was a newborn, I spent many late nights watching infomercials because she felt sleep wasn’t important.
One of the commercials I remember best was for a kitchen gadget that acted as a blender, smoothie maker and food processor. This commercial was scripted, with a couple cheerily making breakfast for their party guests while touting the benefits of their wonderful device. It was so bad, it was good. After all, I remember it nearly 18 years later — and I bought the appliance.
I mention this because one of the commercial’s characters, an older aunt type who shuffles onto the screen wearing a housecoat with an unlit cigarette dangling out of her mouth, called chopping garlic the worst job in the kitchen.
To me, chopping garlic is almost therapeutic. When I have a bulb of garlic on the cutting board and my knife posed to do whatever the recipe calls for, I’m in the zone. It’s the beginning of the cooking process. Soon, the ingredients on my counter will transform into something that will feed and nourish my loved ones. Yes, I may end up with some scents on my hands and stains on my clothes, but that’s part of the process.
(And soap is a thing, infomercial lady!)
Long story short, garlic doesn’t deserve its stinky reputation. According to “Hidden Natural Histories: Herbs” by Kim Hurst, garlic has been associated throughout its 6,000-plus year history with promoting strength and health.
Workers in ancient Egypt consumed garlic while building the pyramids, believing it would protect them from illness and epidemics. Greek athletes and wrestlers chewed garlic for strength and courage. During the Middle Ages, garlic was used as a remedy against the plague.
The realms of religion and magic also held garlic in high regard. The ancient Greeks left cloves of garlic on crossroads as food for Hecate, their goddess of magic, while popular folklore believed that hanging bunches of garlic around a home kept evil spirits at bay.
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In popular culture, sometimes garlic is a deterrent for vampires. It was in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” but not Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It depends on the creator, though most stories say it’s vampires’ heightened sense of smell that makes garlic unappealing, but not necessarily an herb that will save your life.
In the kitchen, garlic runs the gamut of sweet to savory, depending on use and preparation. Because it has such a strong flavor, sometimes just running a clove of garlic along the edges of a bowl is enough to infuse a salad or sauce.
National Garlic Day is Thursday. I was unaware this was a thing until a cooking magazine told me otherwise.
In fact, nearly 40 garlic festivals are held throughout the country each year. If you’re interested, Milwaukee’s garlic festival will take place in June, while Hutchinson, Minn., is scheduled to celebrate its festival in August. Garlic Fest in St. Louis will take place in September.
If traveling to another state to celebrate this member of the onion family doesn’t work with your plans, you can always try growing your own. Garlic is drought-resistant and rarely has pest problems. Heck, I bet even I could grow garlic and I’m a terrible gardener!
Thank goodness for grocery stores and farmers markets.
Garlic Maple Dressing
2 minced garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
Juice from 1 medium lemon
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
Place all ingredients in a lidded container. Shake until combined.
The Very Best Cheesy Garlic Bread
1/2 cup butter
3 to 4 large garlic cloves
1 cup mozzarella
1 cup cheddar
A handful of fresh herbs — parsley, basil and oregano all work well
1 fresh baguette, sliced diagonally at 4 to 5 centimeter intervals (edit: French bread works well, too)
Paprika for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put all the filling ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend.
Generously spread the filling between the baguette slices. Wrap the baguette loosely in aluminum foil, then place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling has melted.
Remove from the oven, open the foil and sprinkle with paprika. Leaving the foil open, return the baguette to the oven for a few minutes, until the crest is golden brown.
Source: “Garlic: The Mighty Bulb” by Natasha Edwards (Firefly Books; Aug. 17, 2012)
4 1/2 ounces very soft unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf or curly parsley
4 garlic cloves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mash together the butter and lemon juice until well mixed and creamy.
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Beat in the parsley. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat of a knife, peel, sprinkle with salt, and crush in a pestle and mortar. Beat into the butter. Transfer to a small dish, cover and chill for up to 3 days until ready to use. Do not freeze.
Source: “The Cook’s Herb Garden”
Gilroy Garlic Mac
Makes 4 servings.
4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
2 cups Mac Sauce (recipe below)
1 1/2 cups grated Gouda cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
In a small bowl, mash together the minced garlic and the butter to form a compound butter.
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse the pasta with cold water, and drain it again.
Add the sauce, both cheeses, and the garlic butter to a large, heavy-bottomed pit and cook over medium heat. Stir until the cheese is barely melted, about three minutes. Slowly add the cooked pasta, stir, and continue cooking while stirring continuously until the pasta is hot and steaming, another five minutes.
Spoon into bowls and serve hot.
Makes 3 cups.
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
Heat the milk over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but not boiling, three to four minutes. Remove from the heat.
Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When the butter has just melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about three minutes. Remove from the heat.
Slowly pour the warm milk, about one cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick where you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire three cups. This is normal.
Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next two to three minutes, the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Use a spoon to make sure it’s ready. To do this, dip a metal spoon into the sauce — if the sauce coats the spoon and doesn’t run off like milk, you’ll know it’s ready. You should be able to run your finger along the spoon and have the impression remain. Add the salt.
The Mac Sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool. Store it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time — it will get a lot thicker when put in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to think it out a bit when it comes time to melt in the cheese. Try melting the cheese into the sauce first and if it is too thick, then add milk as needed.
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Source: “The Mac + Cheese Cookbook” 50 Simple Recipes from Homeroom, America’s Favorite Mac and Cheese Restaurant” by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade (Ten Speed Press; 2013)