Recently I tried out a clay garlic roaster I’ve had for awhile. Following directions, I cut across the top of a head of garlic, placed it in the roaster, poured over a bit of extra virgin olive oil, put on the cover, and baked it at 350°F for the better part of an hour.
Some problems were immediately apparent. Unless all the cloves in a head of garlic converge at more or less the same height in the center, some will have too much cut off and others, not enough. The roaster is only large enough to fit one smallish head of garlic, so if you want to roast a lot (and if you’re going to have the oven on for an hour, this makes sense), this is not the way to go. Because I wanted more, I inserted some whole garlic cloves (“jammed in” would be more accurate) around the single head.
Those individual pieces of garlic either didn’t soften at all or burned on one side. The whole head cooked unevenly, too. Trying to squeeze the roasted garlic from its papery sleeves was frustrating – cooked garlic is sticky, so I wound up with almost as much on my hands as in the bowl. The purée acted like glue when it was time to wash off the skins. So the garlic roaster will be passed along to someone who finds it at our local still-good shed, with my wish that they have better luck with it than I did.
But I still needed roasted garlic for a sauce to accompany the roast lamb I was making this week. I decided to peel the garlic before roasting to eliminate the mess I’d experienced before. Not having a small enough container, I made a square of two layers of aluminum foil. On it went the peeled and trimmed garlic cloves, tossed with a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil. I twisted up the top of the foil to make a leak-proof packet, and put it to cook with the lamb at 400°F. Guessing it wouldn’t take as long as the lamb, I set the timer for 30 minutes.
When I checked the garlic after half an hour, it was absolutely perfect – tender enough to purée, and evenly cooked throughout. The smell was captivating. I resealed the packet and set it aside until the lamb came out of the oven. Combined with lamb stock, some puréed tomato, and the cooking juices, the garlic make a perfect sauce.
A bonus was the leftover oil. Imbued with the essence of garlic, it was too good to toss. So I refrigerated it; and as soon as I get some more zucchini from my CSA, it’s going to be the basis of a quick sauté. I expect it would also be good for frying eggplant, potatoes, peppers, or eggs . . . hmm, I see more roasted garlic in my future, now that I have this easy, foolproof method of making it.
What about garlic-infused oil? Can’t you just put fresh garlic in olive oil and flavor it that way? This is not recommended. Anything that grows in soil carries the risk of being contaminated with clostridium botulinum, a bacteria which under unaerobic conditions can create botulism, a toxin which can cause serious illness or death.
For more on garlic and flavored oils, catch the next Techniques, Tools, and Tips column.
(Photo: Jean Scheijen)