Roasting Garlic for the Holidays

Roasting Garlic for the Holidays

I grow lots of garlic. A fetish with growing different varieties in my garden – more than 600 exist from around the world – grew into a vocation as a part-time farmer, with around 40,000 cloves planted at the peak of that experiment.

Garlic is planted in the fall for harvesting in mid-summer. So, by the time the holidays rolled around, I had next year’s crop in the ground and my larder stuffed full of the pungent bulbs – each planted clove produces a new bulb – for consuming and sharing with friends.

Garlic exists in two main categories: softneck (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) – the type generally found in the grocery store – and hardneck, (A. sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) – which you will more likely find at your local farmers market. Softneck garlic keeps longer – up to 12 months – but hardneck garlic is more flavorful and thus preferred by chefs.

One of my favorite ways to prepare garlic – especially for the holidays – is to roast it in the oven. Roasting turns the skins golden brown and softens both the taste and the texture of the cloves, turning them into caramelized morsels you can schmutz onto fresh bread or pop straight into your mouth.     

Here’s how it’s done:

I begin by selecting a hardneck variety that yields large, relatively uniform bulbs. The Music variety – brought to North America from Italy in the 1980s and popular with farmers for its cold-tolerance and high yields – is perfect for roasting, producing around six to seven large, uniform cloves per bulb.

With the bulb placed sideways on a cutting board, trim about the top quarter inch off of each bulb with a sharp knife so that all cloves are exposed. (Don’t discard the tops, as they contain morsels of garlic and can be squeezed into a jar for use another time.)

Arrange the bulbs into one crowded layer in a baking pan with the exposed tops up. Sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary (optional) and drizzle with enough olive oil to cover the exposed tops of the cloves. Place in the center rack of an oven preheated to 400ºF and begin checking the cloves for softness at about 40 minutes. The longer you roast the garlic – up to 75 minutes, if desired – the softer the clove will become and the more mellow the taste.

If you don’t wish to prepare a whole panful of garlic, place the desired number of cloves onto a sheet of aluminum foil, prepare as above and wrap tight so that bulb tops remain facing up before placing in the oven.

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