Garlic was not a part of my Minnesota German mother’s cooking, so of course I embraced it ardently when I started cooking on my own—that’s what we did back in the ’60s: tried to make it new.
Along with cooking garlic every which way, I joined the Lovers of the Stinking Rose, a very informal Berkeley group devoted to garlic cooking and eating. When Robert Charles opened La Vielle Maison in Truckee, California, in the 1970s, I hopped the first Southern Pacific train I could to chug up there for a five-course, garlic-infused meal.
What changes have been rung in the status of garlic here in south-central Minnesota!—now each August, Minnesota has its very own garlic festival, and every fall, Mississippi Market stocks a lively variety of locally grown garlics. This is a very happy time to be a lover of the stinking rose in the North Star state.
This year’s Minnesota Garlic Festival—the sixth—will be held at the McLeod County fairgrounds in Litchfield. Chefs from the Twin Cities will offer fabulous garlic-infused food. With any luck, the Minars of Cedar Summit will show up, as they have in past years, with garlic ice cream made in their creamery. Newly harvested local garlic—most of it is hard-necked, and happily lots of it is really firey—will be on sale for Christmas stockings, faux Chanukah gelt, and fall and winter braises. You can sacrifice a head or two to planting for your own harvest in late summer 2012 (Check out our class on the subject). What more can a lover of the stinking rose ask for?
It’s fascinating to look over the varieties for sale at the festival; many, if not most, originate in Russia, Siberia, Poland, and other northerly places—I suppose that should come as little surprise. If all you’ve eaten is the conventional, white-skinned, soft-necked garlic that comes from California (and in supermarkets, from China, which exports more than 75% of the world’s soft-necked garlic), you’re in for a surprise. Hard-necked garlics are fuller bodied, more deeply flavored, and sometimes far hotter than standard-issue garlic. Rocambole varieties (for example, Spanish Roja, German Brown, Argentine Red Stripe, Purple Max) offer deep, memorable flavors. Purple-stripes (for example, Metechi, Siberian, Persian Star) become wonderfully sweet when roasted. Porcelains (for example, Georgian Fire, Georgian Crystal, Music, Leningrad, German White, Polish Hardneck, Romanian Red) have few but uniformly sized, usually very large cloves (4–8 per head) and offer the fieriest taste.
Once you know what garlic you prefer, harden off some cloves of your favorites and plant them in fall for 2012’s harvest. The chartreuse-green scapes that emerge in spring possess a youthful garlic-y flavor: you can chop them up as you would chives or scallions and use them to add a bit of bite and green flavor to salads, soups, and casseroles. The beautiful flower heads that rise atop lengthy stems in spring are edible and add striking color (blue to purple) to salads and otherwise blandly colored cheese and potato dishes.
For a more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-know introduction to garlic lore, cultivation, and cooking, check out Ted Jordan Meredith’s The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks (Timber Press, 2008), a book as beautiful as it is comprehensive.
For a blast from the past, find yourself a used copy of Lloyd J. Harris’s The Book of Garlic (Holt, Rinehart, 1975)—good recipes, great lore, a tonic reminder that avid interest in food in this country did not start in the 1980s or 1990s.
This is one of the most versatile foodstuffs I know of. You can use it on pizzas when they come out of the oven; as a salad dressing or marinade for grilling, with a squeeze of fresh lemon; as a wake-me-up for mashed or smashed potatoes. Use it fresh within a day or freeze it for up to six months. If I were stuck on the proverbial desert island, this is the one sauce I would want with me.
2 large cloves of garlic, skinned
¼ c. flatleaf parsley
¼ c. fresh basil
½ tsp. fresh rosemary leaves
½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves
¼–½ tsp. dry oregano
shake of red pepper flakes
¼–½ tsp. sea salt
½ c. extra-virgin olive oil (preferably a peppery one like Napa Valley Naturals
Rich & Robust)
- If using a mortar and pestle, grind garlic and other ingredients into a rough paste; add olive oil; pour into a ½-pint jar and leave out for an hour before use so flavors can marry.
- If chopping up ingredients, put olive oil into a small jar, then mince garlic, chop parsley, basil, rosemary, and thyme finely; scrape into jar, add pepper flakes and salt. Leave out for an hour before use so flavors can marry.
- If used as a marinade or salad dressing, add juice of a half lemon first.
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Yes, this sounds excessive, but the flavor is memorably sweet and complex and cherished by most lovers of the stinking rose. You could probably win a bet with most diners by asking them to name the seasoning; few would be able to identify the garlic. This is adapted from the late Richard Olney’s interpretation of an old provençal recipe (Simple French Food, 1974).
4 each chicken thighs and drumsticks, or one cut-up chicken, skin on
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
4 heads of garlic, broken into cloves but not peeled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. dry herbes de Provence
seasoning vegetables: 1 stalk of celery, small handful of flatleaf parsley,
dry bay leaf, greens from a leek or scallions
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Pat chicken pieces dry so they brown well. Heat 1/3 c. olive oil on MEDIUM in heavy skillet, and when it shimmers, add chicken pieces with tongs (do not break skin). Brown lightly on both sides.
- Add the rest of the olive oil to a Dutch oven, earthenware pot, Romertopf, or stoneware casserole. Then add the chicken, which should just fit into the cooking vessel; don’t use a huge vessel lest the chicken dry out. The food should be tucked in companionably (a 3-quart pot is about right for one chicken; a 2-quart will do for legs and thighs alone).
- Add garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and dry herbs. Use your hands to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly, so everything is well coated.
- Push the chicken pieces toward the sides of the roasting vessel and stuff the fresh vegetables into the center. If any garlic cloves pop up to the top, push them back down amid the chicken pieces.
- Put a piece of crumpled parchment paper over the contents and cover with a lid or with tightly closed aluminum foil to fully seal the dish. Bake in center of oven for 1¾ hours.