By Susan Simon
This “In the Kitchen” column originally ran in the Aug. 26, 2021 Inquire and Mirror
Garlic is flavor, it’s medicine, it’s folklore.
Asian cuisine doesn’t exist without the inclusion of garlic. In cultures as diverse as those in Japan, China, Greece and Egypt – to name a few – garlic was considered a beneficial treatment for arthritis (it still is), snake and insect bites, chronic cough and as an antibiotic. Many European cultures have used garlic to ward off demons, werewolves and vampires.
Garlic is a pungent and sometimes spicy ingredient added to other ingredients to elevate their culinary profile into something that’s immediately identifiable. It seems that life at the table didn’t exist before garlic bread and its clone, garlic knots.
Some diners believe that garlic belongs in tomato sauce, salad dressings, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, grilled fish and for sure in food from China, the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East.
But some diners would prefer that garlic is never included in any dish. Go figure.
I write about garlic now because I just picked up three of the several varieties of garlic that my brother-in-law grew in his island garden: Transylvania, China Stripe – one of the most popular varieties – and Nootka Rose, new to me, which was created on a farm in Washington State. It’s an organic, non-GMO garlic which disappears quickly from most sellers. If interested, order it now.
As I was making the decision to write about garlic, my old friend, shopkeeper extraordinaire Joanne Rossman of the eponymous shop, also known as Purveyor of the Unnecessary & the Irresistible in Roslindale, sent me a box of her garlic, all in individual bags, labeled with their names, varieties and whether soft neck or hard neck.
The difference between hard-neck and soft-neck garlic is their appearance (hard necks are so-called because of the long flowering stem growing through the center of the bulb, while soft-neck cultivars, on the other hand, yield a greater number of cloves and a generally larger bulb.
From Joanne, I received Romanian Red, Red Toch from the Republic of Georgia, Lotus Turban from China, Lorz named for the Lorz family who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, and another popular variety, German Red Neck. I’ve got enough garlic to last me until next year’s harvest, and to ward off multiple vampires.
Spaghetti Aglio, Olio and Peperoncino
Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil and Hot Peppers
Every maker of this classic Roman dish has their own way of putting it together, but everyone uses the same ingredients to make it. Almost from the moment I landed in Italy for the first time many decades ago, I was offered a plate of this appealing dish. It was after a night out, exactly when it’s meant to be served. It tantalizes the palate while sopping up one too many glasses of wine, and gets you ready for a good night’s sleep. Deceptively simple to make, this dish, like two other Roman favorites –m Spaghetti alla Carbonara and pasta Cacio e Pepe – relives on the deft use of starchy pasta water to finish cooking and slightly thicken the sauce. I used Nootka Rose with strong garlic flavor to make this dish.
3/4 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup, plus more as desired, extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
1-2 whole fresh small red chiles, or small dried chiles, or more, as desired, chopped
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package directions.
- Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a deep pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and peppers. Cook until the garlic is pale gold, two to three minutes. Add the parsley and turn off the heat.
- Two minutes before the pasta has finished cooking, remove a cup of its starchy water.
- Add half a cup of the water to the pan with the oil, place over high heat and reduce by half.
- Add the drained pasta to the pan and stir to coat with all the ingredients. Add more pasta water as needed to either finish cooking the pasta, continue thickening the sauce, or both.
- Season with coarse salt and serve immediately. You may want to add more freshly-chopped parsley, an antidote to garlic breath.
Two Skordalia Recipes
Skordalia is a Greek sauce starring garlic and other ingredients, offered on a mezethes or appetizer platter. Fresh or fried vegetables and little fried fish accompany the sauces, or they accompany them. The recipes are from “The Glorious Foods of Greece” by Diane Kochilas (William Morrow, 2001).
Macedonian Garlic Sauce
Kochilas cites a restaurant in Thessaloniki as a Mecca for mezethes and the source of this preparation. “The regional love affair between garlic and walnuts plays itself out nowhere better than in this local skordalia recipe.” Serve as a dip with all the good, just-harvested island vegetables.
4 to 6 cloves garlic, to taste, peeled
Salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Four 1-inch slices stale rustic bread, crusts removed
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 to 4 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, to taste
- Either in a mortar or a food processor, pulverize the garlic and salt to taste. Add the walnuts and pound or pulverize until the mixture is mealy.
- Dampen the bread under the faucet, squeeze dry and crumble. Add to the mortar or food processor and continue pulverizing. Drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar, alternating between them, and process together until the skordalia is creamy. If it is too thick, add a little water. Serve immediately.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Skordohaviaro (Garlicky Fish Roe Spread)
It just so happens that Glidden’s Island Seafood carries fish roe. So, it’s not a difficulty-to-find ingredient on-island. While the recipe asks for “preferably” white roe, the red stuff is exactly the same, just dyed. Serve as a dip. I like it with toasted pita bread.
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, to taste, peeled
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or 2 tablespoons dried
1/2 cup Tarama (fish roe)
4 one-inch slices stale rustic bread, crusts removed, dampened, squeezed dry and crumbled, or 3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and boiled in water to cover until tender
2 to 5 tablespoons water, as needed
- Place the garlic with one or two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large mortar. Pound to a pulp with the pestle.
- Slowly add the mint, fish roe, bread or potatoes, the remaining oil and water in small amounts. Alternating between them and pounding well after each addition.
- Alternatively, place the garlic with one or two tablespoons of the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse on and off, then add the mint, fish roe and bread or potatoes. If using potatoes, mash slightly before adding to the food-processor bowl. Pulse on and off for a minute or so, until the mixture is mealy. You don’t want to do this too fast. The idea is to simulate the slower mortar-and-pestle method, otherwise the mixture will become too gummy as the starch breaks down. As you pulse on and off, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and water, alternating between them, until the mixture becomes smooth and creamy. Remove from the food processor and serve.
Makes about two cups, six to eight servings.
Greens with Whole Garlic
This recipe from “101 Easy Asian Recipes” by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach (Clarkson Potter, 2015) asks for greens and gives suggestions of what kind, but add to the list with your own choices. It also calls for chicken broth. Use vegetable broth if you prefer. This is the recipe verbatim from the book.
2 tablespoons neutral oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pound pea greens, or large spinach (not baby spinach) or bok choy (babies halved lengthwise or big guys sliced)
1/4 cup chicken broth (or, your choice)
- Pour the oil in a wok and add the garlic cloves. Set the wok over medium heat and warm the oil so the garlic sizzles. Turn the cloves, caramelizing them evenly, for two to three minutes. (Note that if you’re not cooking in a wok, you might want to tilt the pan up sideways so the oil pools around the garlic cloves during this stage, to imitate wok-ish proportions. There’s a subtle difference to cooking something in even a minor depth of oil – as there would be in the wok – in that the oil is going to get less hammered during the browning process and pick up more and better garlic flavor.
2. Add the greens and toss to coat in the oil. Add the broth and cover the skillet, cooking the greens until wilted and just tender, about two minutes. Serve the greens with the garlic cloves