Strings of tightly-braided organic garlic were among the stunning array of displays at the local farmer's markets this week. Garlic has a long history, with origins dating back to the deserts of Central Asia. It was mentioned in The Old Testament and was used to nourish the slave workers who built the pyramids in Egypt. Tutankhamun was buried in 1358 BC, but when archaeologist, Howard Carter, discovered the ancient King's tomb in 1992, he found garlic bulbs among the treasures!
Emperor Nero loved garlic and is said to have invented the traditional, ever-so-yummy garlicky mayonnaise, Aioli, but the high priestesses in Roman temples apparently forbade entry to anyone who had been eating it. Which reminds me of a funny chapter titled 'Yum! Something Smells Terrible' in Terry Durack's book Yum. Durack sheepishly admits (after having peeled 420 garlic cloves) that 'garlic has a delicate, lingering quality that lasts long after less vegetables have faded away ... but has survived a long history of being reviled'.
Garlic was once considered to be 'wogfood' by Australian standards, as author John Newton points out. W-O-G: that is wine, olive oil and garlic, the etymological definition preferred by Newton, whose book, Wogfood, combined the oral histories and recipes of migrant Australians. Indeed many of the recipes included by Newton in his book include ample quantities of garlic.
Garlic brings wonderful finesse to all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes. especially when it has been slow-roasted to a sweet and mellow flavour. To roast a head of garlic, Stephanie Alexander instructs: 'Remove any extra layers of papery skin. Slice the top off the entire head to expose the cloves as if you were beheading a boiled egg. Oil the garlic and bake in a moderate oven at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes until quite soft. The oiled head can also be wrapped and roasted in oiled aluminium foil'.
Pan-fried garlic adds a deliciously nutty taste to cooking. Take care, and heed another word of advice from the expert: garlic fried too hot or for too long becomes horribly bitter and inedible. One of the simplest dishes using pan-fried garlic is Aglio e Olio or Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil. For four people, cook 500g spaghetti in boiling water until it is al dente, then drain and set aside. Quickly heat half a cup of good olive oil in a deep pan, add 6-8 finely chopped garlic cloves and immediately toss in the pasta and a little dried or fresh chilli. Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, a handful of chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese.
Another of my favourite recipes using garlic is Rick Stein's Gremolata Prawns (from his big seafood bible, Rick Stein's Seafood). You need twenty large unpeeled prawns, olive oil, the zest and juice of a large lemon (or two), three cloves of garlic that you have finely chopped, some Cayenne pepper (or chilli), a few tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley, and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. To make the dish, simply heat the oil in a large frypan, add the prawns and toss them over a high heat for four or five minutes. Add the sea salt and pepper, and chilli or cayenne if using. Pour half of the lemon juice over the prawns and continue to cook them until the lemon juice has evaporated. (Note, I also add the garlic in the last few moments while the pan is still on the heat, however Rick suggests adding it to prawns with the lemon zest and chopped parsley gremolata. I prefer to cook the garlic off just a little). Sprinkle over the gremolata and serve. Rick recommends that you serve 'with finger bowls and plenty of napkins'.
So tell me, do you love garlic or do you hate it? What was your first experience with it and how do you use it in your cooking?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.