Roasted Garlic (a.k.a. best flavor ever)

Something magical happens to garlic when you wrap it in foil and put it in the oven. All the pungent, sharp spiciness fades like a bad memory as it becomes entirely different—creamy, mellow, warm and nutty.

In our kitchen, roasted garlic gets plenty of action, particularly at the holidays when we are making casseroles, gravies, appetizers and roast meats. If you are not roasting your own garlic, it’s a good time to start, especially in advance of many of the recipes I’ll be offering over the next week. You’ll save a lot of time and money over buying it pre-roasted, and I promise you this—you’ll never want to go back to any store-bought substitute. Roasting garlic is simple to do, and it doesn’t require any special equipment or gadgets.

Before I break it down into steps, let’s take a moment to explore the world of garlic to better understand more about it and how this roasting “magic” happens.

What gives raw garlic a sharp flavor?

Garlic belongs to the same botanical family (allium) as onions, leeks and chives. All of them contain organosulfur compounds (most notably allicin), which contribute to the strong aroma as well as the sharp, biting flavor. You may not know that the way you cut garlic can affect the flavor of it in a dish. When used in whole cloves, it is relatively mild. Slices are stronger, and chopped garlic really exaggerates the sharpness because of the release of the oils within the cloves.

How long has garlic been used in cooking?

A mighty long time! Food historians estimate that garlic had culinary uses in ancient China and Egypt as long as 4,000 years ago. There’s even a passage in the Bible to corroborate claims of garlic’s longstanding place in our diets. The verses are embedded in the Old Testament story of Moses trying his darnedest to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. A group of complainers started grousing about the manna that God provided to them each day for nourishment along the way. All they could think about was how great everything “used to be.” (Hmm, such clamoring seems somehow familiar.)

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite: we never see anything but this manna!”

Numbers 11:4-5, New International Version

Garlic’s prevalence eventually spread throughout the Asian and European continents and pretty much everywhere else, and I’d be hard-pressed to name a cuisine today that does not use garlic.

Is garlic good for you?

Maybe, but you should always check with your doctor before assuming that it’s safe to ingest garlic in large quantity or concentrated form. Anecdotes on the internet may suggest that chewing raw garlic does everything from preventing hangovers to curing cancer, but please be smart. There are mixed results from actual medical research, and for people with certain pre-existing conditions or those who take certain prescription medications, too much (or any amount of) garlic can cause more harm than good. In moderation among relatively healthy people, garlic delivers a good dose of B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus, iron and zinc. It has a wonderful taste, but it’s no wonder drug (sorry).

Can you give garlic to pets?

Please don’t. Though some “holistic” websites claim raw garlic is an effective way to prevent flea infestation in pets, the science shows any food from the allium family can be toxic to dogs and cats. For safety’s sake (and for the love of your fur babies), consult a licensed veterinarian.

What about the legends of garlic and vampires?

It is well-documented (c’mon, we’ve all seen the movies) that eating raw garlic provides protection against vampires and other evil forces. It is also a highly effective and diplomatic way to bring a bad first date to an immediate end. Or so I’m told.

Why does roasting garlic change its flavor?

Allicin, the organosulfuric compound that makes garlic “stinky,” becomes neutralized when it reaches 140° F and is converted to a different compound called polysulfides. The flavor shifts from “sharp” to “mellow” and even somewhat sweet. This conversion can be achieved during careful sautéing or frying, but more easily and consistently by slow roasting.

Can I roast garlic in the microwave?

Nope. It may soften a bit, but the texture and flavor will be all wrong, and the best you can hope for is a small mess in the microwave. And that lingering smell…phew. Don’t rush it.

How do you keep roasted garlic?

We go through it pretty fast at our house, so we usually just keep it wrapped in its roasting foil near the onion basket on the counter. If it will be several days or more before you plan to use it, I’d recommend transferring the roasted garlic to a covered container in the fridge.

Ready to make some? Gather up this very short list of ingredients, and let’s get started!

When we have a big cooking event approaching, I roast a bunch of garlic at once. We did 10 bulbs this day!

Ingredients

fresh whole bulbs of garlic

extra virgin olive oil (or spray)

aluminum foil

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Peel away most of the dry “paper” layer that protects the garlic, leaving only the layer closest to the cloves. This assists with more even roasting, and minimal mess when you are ready to use the garlic.
  3. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the top off the entire bulb of garlic. It’s best to lay the garlic on its side to do this. If the individual cloves are offset at different heights, you can use the tip of a paring knife to expose the shorter ones.
  4. Place the cloves (individually or two at a time) on a square of aluminum foil, and wrap the foil up the sides to create a bundle, but leave it open at the top. Drizzle or spray oil lightly over the exposed tops of the cloves.
  5. Close up the foil tightly and bake, either on a cookie sheet or in a skillet, for about an hour. The garlic doesn’t take up much space in the oven, so I usually do this while I’m also baking a roast, a casserole or a loaf of bread.

The color of roasted garlic may vary, depending on your oven temperature, the age of the garlic and the length of roasting time. Once it is soft and easily squeezed from the cloves, it’s done, even if it has a somewhat “blonde” color. We usually let it roast until it is a deep golden shade.

To use the roasted garlic, simply turn the bulb upside down and gently squeeze the sides. The soft cloves will slide right out into your bowl or recipe. Add roasted garlic to soups, dips, hummus, vegetables, spreads, sauces or meats, or enjoy it in its simplest form by spreading it right onto crackers or crostini.

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