Garlic, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love you for your versatility. You make everything better from bread to ice cream. Your flavor is ever changing depending on how you’ve been prepared. I love your pungent aroma and the healthful bounty you provide. Allium sativum, my stinking rose, you are a beautiful and complex bulb.
I’m certainly not the first person to have amorous feelings for garlic. In fact, passion and garlic have been linked for thousands of years. Many ancient cultures believed garlic was a powerful aphrodisiac. Tibetan monks were forbidden from eating garlic before entering monasteries because of it’s reputation for arousing desire and Greek mythology claimed that garlic made men powerful and caused women to fall in love. Actually, garlic is only a mild stimulant, but it does cause an increase in blood flow by heating the body from the inside out.
Hydrogen sulfide, which gives garlic it’s antioxidant and antifungal properties, is also the reason garlic gives you bad breath. I’m not sure how that factors into the aphrodisiac equation, but before leaning in for a kiss, try chewing on some fennel seed or parsley.
Allicin, a sulfur-rich amino acid found in garlic cells is the culprit behind the hydrogen sulfide production. When the cell walls are damaged the allicin is released. By releasing more of it you not only turn up the garlic flavor, but boost the antioxidant and antifungal properties as well. After you release the allicin it starts to break down and cooking will rapidly degrade it. That’s why whole, roasted garlic cloves have a mild, almost sweet taste where as minced, raw garlic is spicy.
Ready to go shopping? There are numerous garlic varieties out there, but they all fall within two classifications: hardneck and softneck garlic. Softnecks are the most common variety found in markets because they store quite well. They have a white, papery skin and the cloves form in several layers around the core. Hardnecks generally have larger cloves that form in a single layer around the thick, sturdy stem. Their flavor varies depending on the climate where they were grown, but as a rule the larger the bulb, the milder the flavor. Hardneck varieties won’t keep as long and should be used within a few months of purchasing.
Garlic can be tedious to peel. I like to smash the clove with the flat side of a knife to loosen the skin, making it easy to remove. This also releases the allicin making it more flavorful and increasing all those health benefits. If you’re in need of lots of garlic in a hurry, try this: smash a head of garlic with the palm of your hand to knock the individual cloves loose. Place them in a metal bowl with another metal bowl as a lid. Vigorously shake for 10 seconds and viola, perfectly peeled garlic cloves.
Unpeeled garlic that is stored in a cool, dark place can last for several months. If it sprouts you can still use the clove, just discard the green sprout which has a bitter taste. You can create your own garlic paste by blending a couple of heads of garlic in a food processor with a little water. This will store in the refrigerator for about a week, or freeze it in an ice cube tray for convenient serving sizes that will last for a few months. Try it with ginger too!
There are countless reasons to love garlic and countless ways to prepare it as well. Here is a recipe for roasted garlic ice cream. The roasted garlic has a rich, buttery taste that blends well with the sweet vanilla flavor.
Roasted Garlic Ice Cream
- 1 garlic head
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Dash of salt
- 6 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
Place a baking sheet in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel a few layers of white skin off the garlic bulb, leaving enough to keep the bulb intact. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top of the garlic bulb, exposing a bit of each clove. Place garlic bulb in foil. Drizzle olive oil on top, and seal the foil around it. Place in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes, until tender. Cool slightly, peel off the white skin and finely mince the garlic cloves.
Bring garlic, milk, vanilla and salt to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat immediately. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar and cream. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg mixture, making sure the eggs don’t curdle. Return the mixture to the pan and stir constantly for 10 minutes over low heat until thickened.
Remove custard from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof, airtight container. Let mixture cool in the fridge before pouring into an ice cream maker. Freeze ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions.