Updated March 2011.
Here in Rhode Island, people don't always know what to do with the letter R.
It pops up where it shouldn't: Coventry becomes "Carventry," Lydia becomes "Lydier."
And it's missing from at least one fundamental pantry ingredient: garlic, which the locals call gah-lick.
Fortunately, it's only the R that's missing, and not the garlic itself. Rhode Island is justly famous for Italian-American cuisine, with no skimping on the garlic. Two farms within a few miles of my house offer unusual and heirloom varieties, including both softneck (the most common type) and hardneck. In the supermarket, garlic is garlic, anonymous and uniform, but at the farm stands, garlic answers to many names: Rocambole, Spanish Roja, Chesnok Red, Mexican Red Silver.
Well known as one of the world's healthiest foods, garlic is also one of the world's oldest cultivated vegetables, native to central Asia where it has been grown for more than 5,000 years. Migrating populations and explorers brought garlic to countries all around the globe, including Singapore, India, Mexico, France, Tunisia, Malaysia, and the United States, which is now one of the world's largest producers.
A member of the lily family, garlic (Allium sativum) grows underground in a bulb, called a "head", made up of individual cloves. The cloves, and the whole head, are encased in a papery skin that is not edible.
With a nod to David Letterman, here are a few things to know about garlic.
Three ways to peel the cloves:
- Drop individual cloves into a pot of boiling water. Remove after 30 seconds and place in a bowl of ice water. When the cloves are cool enough to handle, slip the peel off.
- Place one clove on a cutting board. Position a large chef's knife over the clove, and smash it with the heel of your hand. The peel will pop right off the clove.
- Use one of these rubber tubes. I know, it's a one-task gizmo, but it's an inexpensive and efficient gizmo.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, then rub them on a chrome faucet.
- Wash your hands in cold water, rub them all over with table salt, then wash again in soap and warm water.
One way to get the smell of garlic off your breath after you've eaten the peeled garlic cloves: chew some fresh parsley. Think about persillade and chimichurri; each of these classic sauces brings together garlic and its antidote. Clever, aren't they?
Pear and parsnip soup
Just in time for Thanksgiving menu planning. Also great for lunch, with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. Make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock. Serves 6.
2 lbs parsnips, ends trimmed, peeled
1 medium red or sweet onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, whole but not peeled
Sea salt & black pepper
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large pear (or 2 medium), any variety, peeled and cubed
2 cups homemade chicken stock, or low-sodium store-bought (I use Swanson 99% Fat Free)
1-2 Tbsp minced fresh thyme (or parsley, marjoram, chives, or a mixture), to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place parsnips, onion and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt, pepper and olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are lightly browned. Remove pan from oven, and set aside for 10 minutes. Cut parsnips into chunks and put in a soup pot on the stove with onion, peeled garlic, pear, and chicken stock, plus water to almost cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until the pear is tender (15 minutes). Add herbs; cook 5 minutes more. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot (or purée in batches in a blender). Add cream if you wish. Season with sea salt and lots of freshly-ground black pepper, to taste. Serve hot, garnished with snips of fresh herbs.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Garlic tofu noodles, from Hooked on Heat
Garlic chicken panini, from Panini Happy
Garlic and ginger roasted peanuts, from White on Rice Couple
Gluten-free focaccia with garlic and tomato, from Gluten-Free Goddess
Garlic dill pickles, from Food in Jars
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