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Lightbulb moment

Categories: Features

It’s the time of year when garlic comes to the fore—both in the Market and over on the Isle of Wight, where the annual festival gets underway at the weekend. Borough Market blogger Ed Smith on why we should all show our appreciation for this assertive allium year-round by cooking with it more consciously

As I walked around Turnips fruit and vegetable stall the other day, I noticed that one whole table was devoted to garlic: baskets and baskets of purple garlic, large French garlic, tomberry-red-and-yellow garlic and golden strings of smoked garlic. Lovely stuff.

We tend to use garlic as a background ingredient; something to add depth to dishes. It’s a fine balance when we do use it—and I suspect “needs more garlic” or “too much garlic” are both uttered more frequently than “the garlic’s lovely in that”. But perhaps we just chuck it in mindlessly out of habit, when we should be thinking about why we are using it at all. That table got me thinking: how about a more conscious approach to using garlic—how about, as Turnips had done, making it the main event?

Garlic can be more than just a seasoning. When gently roasted or cooked slowly (confit, for example), it becomes sweet and mellow and moreish rather than harsh and Dracula/snog proof. But why not just embrace it? Snails with garlic is one example of a fine, garlic-heavy dish. Similarly, Asian greens or shrimp dishes often come heavily laced and are dominated by its flavour.

Softened and mellowed
Accordingly, recipes with garlic at the fore follow. The first is for a roast garlic, almond and bread soup. Given the current season, I suggest serving it cold with sliced grapes, mint and a dash of sherry vinegar. It’s incredibly refreshing and there are layers and layers of flavour. There’s almost a bulb of garlic per person in the recipe but once you’ve tried it, you could be tempted to add more. Beautiful when served warm, too.

Second, I give you chilli pickled garlic. Pickling the cloves in warm liquor then leaving them in a sealed jar for four to five weeks results in slightly softened and definitely mellowed garlic. The chillies add a gentle heat, but also colour and interest to the jar and the ultimate destination—which could be simply stirred through a jar of olives and other antipasti items. The cloves themselves are good enough to eat ‘raw’, but my preferred use is to slice them up and stir fry them along with green beans or purple sprouting. I use two to three times as many preserved cloves as I would if they were fresh—that they’ve been pickled and have softened means you get all the best garlic flavour, without the acrid harsh follow through.

As a final comment, no blog about garlic is complete without linking you to this method for easy de-skinning (particularly one which suggests peeling three bulbs for the purpose of preserving them). It really does work. Just make sure you do one bulb of garlic at a time.