Friday, 17 October 2008

Friday Nibbles - Garlic

After last week’s jaunt into vaguely luxurious territory, I’ve chosen to bring things back down to earth a little with today’s ‘Nibble’. I started doing this series a couple of months ago in order to create a semblance of structure to my seemingly incoherent culinary rambles but they’ve quickly become one of my favourite aspects of the blog.

Naturally, it’s wonderful to launch into a few paragraphs explaining my views on molecular gastronomy or extolling the virtues of delicatessens, but these are far removed from the majority of my experiences in the kitchen. I really wish that I spent my days experimenting with spherification techniques, trying to find the perfect salami or eating in fabulous restaurants but, alas, this isn’t the case.

Which is how ‘Friday Nibbles’ were born. They are about examining the unsung heroes of the kitchen and trying to explain why they are just as interesting or just as important as the latest fad or fashion or restaurant or recipe. Personally, I think there is too little written about the apparently mundane aspects of cookery. They tend to be glossed over in favour of the things that seem more glamorous but actually strike a chord with far fewer people.

Not everyone gets the chance to eat at Per Se or WD-50 but everybody has a kitchen of their own. So these are an attempt to redress the balance slightly and look at those wonderful items that no cook, professional or domestic, could possibly live without. So without further delay, let’s celebrate the simple.

I’ve been saving garlic for a few weeks now (as a topic as opposed to a weird collection). Even before I did the very first ‘Nibble’ I knew that garlic would feature at some point but I wanted to get into a stride before eulogising over this amazing plant.

I cannot imagine what direction cooking could possibly take if it weren’t for this pungent little allium which adds its unique flavour to countless dishes from all over the world.

It is unknown from where the ancestral progenitor of garlic originated although it is likely to have been somewhere in Asia. From there it spread rapidly to almost all corners of the world to a point where it now features in more global cuisine than any other ingredient I can possibly think of. In fact, the only area I can recall that doesn’t feature garlic in its traditional regional cooking is northern Europe where the presence of a harsh climate would likely have prevented the plant from becoming truly domesticated.

There are hundreds of varieties of garlic from the tightly packed and highly pungent Purple White to the delightfully named Elephant Garlic with its distinctive large cloves and milder flavour. Most are relatively simple to grow in the garden or in small pots on the windowsill and now is a good time to get them planted, just before the first frost. Incidentally, frost is essential to the formation of garlic cloves: without a cold snap, you’d end up with a large garlic ‘onion’ as opposed to the separate sections we all know and love.

But what can you do with it? I honestly don’t think I have the time to go into this. You could write entire books on the uses of garlic and you’d barely manage to get out of Europe. You’d struggle to get beyond France, in fact, and Italy would be an entire series on its own and that’s without even mentioning south east Asia.

Suffice to say it is, in my opinion, the most versatile and essential ingredient that it is possible to have in the kitchen. From utter simplicity – think spaghetti tossed with olive oil, garlic and chilli – to deep rich and complex winter stews, garlic is virtually the first ingredient in the pan and one that I keep a constant supply of in the kitchen. It doesn’t even make it to the cupboard, but rather sits happily on the windowsill in a little copper pan.

And don’t think it stops with savouries. I recently had lunch at a two star restaurant in Cambridge where, for dessert, we had a spiced apple tarte tatin served with the subtlest and most delicious foam I have ever tasted. Subtle and delicious garlic flavoured foam. Not that I’ve tasted many foams, but still.

Anyway, here’s to garlic. Have a great weekend and for more, don't forget the other blogs: Candid Food which exposes the seedy underbelly of food modelling, and Alex Rushmer, a collection of miscellaneous musings


Alicia Foodycat said...

A fascinating post on my most indispensible ingredient! ThanksAlex!

dp said...

I couldn't imagine food without garlic.

I read about an Italian chef a while back who said something about garlic not belonging in Italian cuisine. Could you imagine? I hope someone took his membership card!

And about garlic and northern European cuisine...I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't experience it. I worked at a "Danish" restaurant in Copenhagen and the only time we ever used garlic was in our stock. I was amazed.

Hopie said...

I couldn't agree more about garlic, and that's a great idea to plant some. I wonder if it gets cold enough here in the winter...

aleta meadowlark said...

Oh, you hit it dead-on. Garlic has saved my diet by making fat-free cooking more savoury. Awesome sauce.

Kumquat Connection said...

I was browsing Tastespotting to see if my own photo of garlic had made it on the site--and came upon your photo first! Gorgeous post on garlic. I do think the timing is uncanny, as I just posted in praise of garlic on my site: Thanks for all the info in your post. Take care!

Amber said...

I am half Assyrian and we crush fresh garlic into plain yogurt and use it as a sauce on top of grape leaf dolma. I love it but it is something most people would need to grow up with.
This was very interesting about garlic, very little of which I knew. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I never liked garlic, I always thought it wasn't worth making my breath smell bad for something I didn't even like. But recently, I'm starting to discover why so many people adore it.

Laura Paterson said...

I'm likewise addicted to garlic. I realised how much the other day, when I prepared a sauce, and excited told B - Guess what? This is new. I have put no garlic in this.

One of my few food obsessions that is actually good for me!

Heather said...

Great post, Alex. I'd have to say, though, as a hero, garlic is rather well-sung. :D In my house, anyway.

I've been planning on sticking some shooting cloves into the dirt to see what happens, and now's the time of year.

Just Cook It said...

foodycat - pleasure, glad you liked it.

dp - me neither, totally agree. I cannot envisage Italian food without garlic.

hopie - I think you might be OK, and it's very easy to grow as well. Or so I'm told.

hi aleta, thanks for the comment. Welcome to the blog.

kumquat - What a coincidence! I'll head on over and say hello

amber - thank you, garlic and yoghurt sounds delicious

hillary - welcome aboard, it's definitely worth the funky smell the day after.

kittie - thanks, glad to know I;m not alone.

thanks heather, you should give it a go especially as you get to taste it as fresh wet garlic too.

alisa said...

Wow!!!! Your garlic is SO FRESH! Sadly, most garlic in the Boston area is as jaded as the people who use it:0(

Just Cook It said...

thanks Alisa, sorry to hear that it's hard to get hold of it in Boston, you need a little Italy or good Asian supermarket