Apple pie is about the only dish in my repertoire that doesn't include at least two garlic cloves. I use saute'ed garlic with herbs in breakfast omelets, spread smoked garlic on crusty bread as a cocktail treat, stuff sliced garlic under the skin of a roasting chicken and add a head of garlic to simmering chicken soup.
It seems many others have a great love of the "stinking rose." U.S. production of fresh garlic is 250 million pounds a year, up 100 million pounds from 10 years ago. And more than 140,000 garlic groupies battled the Santa Clara Valley heat to attend last year's Gilroy Garlic Festival, with even more expected this weekend at the annual festival staged in the self-proclaimed garlic capital.
You know you're reaching Gilroy from about five miles away. Suddenly the air is perfumed with garlic. A few years ago I was among the throngs, as a judge for the festival's recipe contest.
The weekend was a gastronomic treat of noshing and nibbling through ice cream flavored with garlic and scampi redolent with garlic, cleansing the palate with garlic wine, watching the Garlic Queen crowned and buying souvenir garlic garlands.
Since one of the contest's criteria was use of large amounts of garlic, sampling the final dishes affirmed the belief that it's not how much garlic you use that determines the flavor, but how that garlic is treated.
Allium sativum is a member of the lily family, along with onions, leeks, chives and shallots. It's perfectly odorless until cut and then the odoriferous qualities reign. The tissue of garlic contains cysteine, which is stable under normal conditions, but cutting the tissue's cells brings the cysteine into contact with an enzyme that converts it into diallyl disulfide, the powerful constituent of garlic odor.
It's a good rule to follow that garlic is always stronger raw than cooked. A corollary is that adding raw garlic during the cooking process of a dish results in a stronger flavor than saute'ing the garlic in oil prior to adding other ingredients.
The mildest forms of garlic -- sweet and nutty rather than pungent -- come from baking or simmering whole cloves. In this form, one can eat Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic as they do in France without creating "dragon breath," or even indigestion.
While blanching and baking have been around for years, a trendy treatment is smoking the garlic. Whole heads of garlic are rubbed with oil and placed in a smoker or covered grill (not over the coals) for about 30 minutes, or until the cloves are soft. Smoking adds it own flavor nuance, along with that of the garlic, to the final product.
In the recipes that follow, directions are all important. Deciding that blanching is superfluous or not roasting cloves until soft can result in dramatic -- if not disastrous -- results.
(For information on the garlic festival Friday through Sunday in Gilroy, Calif., call 408-842-1625.)
ROASTED GARLIC POTATO SOUP WITH HERB OIL (6 servings)
FOR THE SOUP:
2 cups unpeeled garlic cloves (about 3 heads)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 baking potatoes, peeled and diced
3 large leeks, white part only, sliced
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup light cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
FOR THE OIL:
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup tightly packed parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the soup: Toss the garlic cloves with the oil, making sure they are lightly coated, and place them on a baking sheet. In a preheated 325-degree oven bake the garlic for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the cloves are soft. When they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out the pulp and discard the peels.
Place the garlic, potatoes, leeks and stock in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the soup, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Pure'e the soup in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender, and return to the pan. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper to taste (it will require little salt if using canned salted stock), and bring to a simmer.
To make the oil: Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender, and pure'e.
To serve: Ladle the soup into heated bowls, and drizzle a little of the oil on top.
Note: The soup and oil can be prepared up to two days in advance. The soup can be served hot or cold.
Per serving: 458 calories, 6 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 36 gm fat, 11 gm saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 424 mg sodium.
GARLIC-STEAMED CLAMS (6 appetizer servings)
3 dozen small hard-shelled clams
1 tablespoon cornmeal
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white pepper
Scrub the clams with a stiff brush under cold running water, discarding any that are not firmly closed. Place them in a bowl of cold water, and sprinkle the cornmeal on top. Place them in the refrigerator for at least 1 1/2 hours. Then drain and scrub them again.
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute', stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Raise the heat to high and add the water, wine and clams. Cover the pot and steam the clams for 3 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the clams. Shake the pan a few times, without opening it, to redistribute the clams.
Remove the clams with a slotted spoon, discarding any that did not open. Stir the parsley, salt and pepper into the broth.
To serve, place the clams in a low bowl, and ladle the broth on top.
Note: Mussels can be substituted for clams. Trim the beards with a sharp paring knife, and then soak as you would clams.
Per serving: 74 calories, 4 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, .7 gm saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 112 mg sodium.
ROASTED VEAL WITH GARLIC AND LEMON (6 servings)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 loin of veal, boned and tied (about 2 1/2 pounds of boneless meat)
3 heads garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled
2 cups chicken stock
Salt, to taste (you will need very little, if any, if using salted canned stock)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Heat the oil in a shallow roasting pan over medium-high heat, and sear the veal on all sides until brown, adding the garlic cloves to the pan as well.
Add the chicken stock, salt, pepper and lemon juice to the pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Place in the center of a preheated 450-degree oven and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the meat, and roast an additional 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve the meat garnished with garlic cloves and, after skimming the fat, pass the sauce separately.
Per serving: 396 calories, 40 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 8 gm saturated fat, 145 mg cholesterol, 311 mg sodium.
Adapted from "Cooking with the New American Chefs" by Ellen Brown, Harper & Row, 1985.) GARLIC AND HERB GRILLED CORNISH HENS (6 servings)
3 Cornish hens, about 1 1/2 pounds each
2 heads garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried and crushed rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Split the hens in half, and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.
Light a charcoal or gas grill. Place the garlic cloves in a saucepan with 1 quart of cold water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 6 to 10 minutes, uncovered, depending on the size of the cloves. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, slice them thinly. Mix the garlic with the parsley, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, butter, salt and pepper.
Stuff the butter mixture under the skin of the hens, and grill, covered, for 10 minutes on a side, or until the juices run out clear. Serve immediately.
Note: The hens can be prepared to the point of grilling up to a day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered with plastic wrap. Or they can be cooked a few hours in advance and served at room temperature.
Per serving: 152 calories, 8 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 9 gm saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 274 mg sodium.
GARLIC CUSTARD (6 servings)
2 heads garlic, broken into cloves
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup veal or beef stock
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
2 tablespoons softened butter
Toss the garlic cloves with the oil, making sure they are lightly coated, and place them on a baking sheet. Bake the garlic in a 325-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the cloves are soft. When they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out the pulp and discard the peels.
Combine the garlic with the stock in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer 5 minutes, then pure'e in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender. Set aside.
Beat the eggs and cream with the salt and pepper, and then beat in the garlic mixture. Butter 6 individual ramekins, and fill with the custard mixture. Place the ramekins in a baking dish large enough to accommodate them, and pour boiling water into the baking dish so that it comes up 2 inches on the sides. Bake in the center of the oven at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then invert onto plates.
Per serving: 231 calories, 5 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 11 gm saturated fat, 188 mg cholesterol, 331 mg sodium.
SMOKED GARLIC TOMATO SAUCE (Makes 6 cups)
3 medium onions, halved
1 red bell pepper
8 large ripe tomatoes
2 heads garlic, rubbed with oil
2 canned green mild chilies, drained
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Light a covered charcoal grill. Soak wood chips, preferably mesquite, in water for 20 minutes. When the coals are prepared, push them to one side of the grill, and place the wood chips on top. Place the onions and red pepper directly over the heat. Place the tomatoes and garlic on the side of the grill not over the coals. Turn the pepper to char all sides, and turn the onions after 15 minutes. Smoke the vegetables for a total of 30 minutes.
Remove the vegetables from the grill. Peel the onions; peel, core and seed the tomatoes. Peel the pepper, and pop the garlic cloves from the head; they will pop out of the skin.
Place all the vegetables, along with the canned green chilies, lime juice, olive oil, oregano, parsley, pepper and salt in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pure'e until smooth.
Pour the pure'e into a 2-quart saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat, and simmer the sauce, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Note: This sauce will keep in a tightly covered jar for up to a week, or can be frozen for up to three months.
Per 1/2-cup serving: 49 calories, 2 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, .2 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 99 mg sodium.
-- Ellen Brown is a Washington-based food writer and prize-winning author of "The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook."