In its way, I think of garlic as the most human of the vegetables.
It certainly has a distinct, if incautious, personality. But no other vegetable responds as well — or changes as much — to the combination of time and discipline as garlic. When young and fresh, it is intense and pungent peeled and out of its bulb. But given long and slow heat, it matures into a soft, deliciously aromatic, almost sweet sort of “butter,” a seasoning like nothing else in the pantry.
If you love garlic, it loves you back. For millennia, scientists and doctors have esteemed its healthful benefits over any other fruit or vegetable, as far as I know. Among other compounds in garlic, one of its primary, alliin, lays claim to being antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, antithrombotic, anti-carcinogenic and is an expectorant, a diuretic and a treatment for hypertension. There will be an even longer list in the supplements section at any Sprouts or Natural Grocers.
Yes, its odor puts off (many, not all) who have noses — and those who do things in the shadows. In 1330 A.D., King Alfonso XI of Castile banned from court any knight who had eaten garlic; furthermore, he forbade the knight from speaking to any other courtier for four weeks. Indeed, the first half of its biological name, Allium sativum, derives from the Greek for “to avoid.”
It is a member of the onion, hence lily, family and is undoubtedly its strongest-flavored and -scented. Perforce, it sports more sulfur compounds than any of the other alliums; it is also richer in more minerals.
Such a powerful little thing — the original “nutraceutical.”
The second-largest producer of garlic on the globe is Korea (some 500,000 annual metric tons), but The People’s Republic of China, the world’s top producer by far, grows 19 times as much each year.
Buy heads of garlic that are firm and solid; any empty spaces behind garlic’s outer “paper” signals dehydration or deterioration within. Store it outside the refrigerator in a dark, airy space.
Nothing beats fresh garlic, but dehydrated granules outperform powders and benefit from being rehydrated. One-quarter teaspoon dry granules equals about one clove fresh.
Trust me (and Simca Beck, the former French cooking maven) on the measurements for this recipe. The huge amount of garlic morphs into a beautiful and seductively aromatic, long-tasting sweetness.
The recipe for beets is a fine accompaniment to the lamb. It does not contain garlic, but its orange zestiness is a fine foil to the richness of the lamb’s saucing.
Lamb Stew with Four Heads of Garlic
Adapted from “New Menus from Simca’s Cuisine,” by Simca Beck (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979). Serves 6-8.
4 pounds lamb (shoulder, stew meat, bone-in shoulder chops)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine or light apple juice
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 heads of garlic, crushed to separate the cloves but left unpeeled
1 bouquet garni of parsley and thyme sprigs and a bay leaf
2 cups homemade chicken stock
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
If necessary, debone the meat. Cut the lamb into largish (1/4-pound each) equal-size chunks. Reserve any bones. Dry off the pieces of lamb with paper toweling.
Cut out a circle of waxed or parchment paper (or aluminum foil), using the lid of a large heavy-bottomed casserole or Dutch oven as an outline. To the same pot, over medium-high heat, add the oil and brown well all the lamb pieces and bones. Do this in as many batches as necessary to avoid crowding the pieces. Set the pieces aside.
Deglaze the pot with the white wine or apple juice, add back and arrange the meat and bones in a single layer. Salt, pepper, add the bouquet garni and all the garlic cloves, sprinkling them around in a single layer. Add the stock and bring to a simmer atop the stove.
Place the round piece of paper or foil over the contents of the pot, cover and cook in a 375-degree oven for 90 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, until the meat is very tender but not falling apart. Once or twice during the cooking time, remove the pot from the oven and flip around the pieces of meat, placing back the piece of paper and the cover of the pot.
When done, transfer the pieces of meat to a platter, cover with the piece of paper and keep warm in the turned-off oven. Discard the bones and the bouquet garni.
Push the garlic cloves through a food mill to remove its fibrous skins or “paper.” (Or push it through a fine-meshed sieve with the back of a wooden spoon.) Degrease the cooking liquid and, if you like, reduce it to concentrate its flavor. (You want to end up with about 1 1/2 cups of sauce.) Stir in the garlic purée, correct the seasoning and keep it warm.
To serve, sauce the pieces of lamb; garnish with the chopped parsley. Serve with the accompanying recipe and boiled or roasted fingerling potatoes.
Beets Glazed with Orange and Honey to accompany your garlic lamb stew
Serves 6-8 as a side.
3 pounds raw red beets
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
The zest of 1 large thin-skinned orange (such as Valencia)
1/4 cup honey, or more, to taste
Kosher or fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
On a baking sheet in a 425-degree oven, roast the beets, each wrapped in heavy-duty foil, for 1-2 hours depending on their size or until a skewer or thin-bladed knife goes into and out of the center of each with ease. Let sit until cool enough to handle and rub off the skin and pare away any caps, ends or rough spots. Cut up the beets into 1-inch chunks.
Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a large skillet, add the minced shallot and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the orange juice and zest, the honey and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a moment to thicken into a sauce.
Add the beets and glaze them with the sauce, stirring and turning them over until well-coated.
Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]