Kitchen Essentials – Garlic
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
So, Shakespeare probably didn’t have the “stinking rose” in mind when he wrote those lines for Juliet. But garlic is certainly one of the most useful, if not beautiful, of kitchen essentials. Garlic (a bulb or a head) is made up of small cloves, like the petals of a flower. It’s considered a root vegetable because the bulb grows underground. Originating thousands of years ago in China, that’s still where most of the world’s supply is still grown. There are over 300 varieties of garlic grown worldwide.
Common garlic is white and has a strong flavour. Italian garlic is recognizable by its pinkish skin and its milder flavour. Elephant garlic is, as its name suggests, huge, but actually very mild in flavour. It’s not really true garlic, being instead a distant cousin of the leek. Garlic has become so essential to cooking that you can find it in almost any form in the grocery store – loose whole fresh heads, preserved whole peeled cloves, jars of minced garlic, dried garlic powder, garlic extract and even garlic salt. If you’re in the habit of visiting a farmers’ market for your produce, you’re bound to come across long, thin, green-onion-like spears nestled beside the garlic heads. Those are the tender and very edible scapes that shoot up from the bulb. They’re milder than garlic cloves and can be sliced and eaten just like a green onion.
Garlic can add any level of intensity to food depending on how you slice it. Italian food is often thought to be heavy in garlic because Italians like to toss a whole clove or two into a dish. But whole cloves actually have very little pungency. Most Italian recipes call for the clove to be removed after it has flavoured the oil for a few minutes. Or if the clove is left in, it’s not meant to be eaten. Next time you make Caesar Salad, try rubbing a whole clove on the inside of the bowl instead of mincing it into the dressing. You will still get the garlic flavour without the potential bitterness of biting into raw garlic. Mince a clove, and its pungent flavour will permeate a dish. And crushing even a little garlic will go a long way in keeping vampires at bay!
Freshness and Storage
Look for these elements when choosing a head of garlic:
• firm to the touch
• no scratches or soft cloves
• no dark patches under the skin
• fresh garlic is harder to peel.
• store in a warm, dry place, like inside a garlic keeper