The cloves had been simmered in oil over the lowest possible heat in a small saucepan until the palest gold, then jar-stored in their oil in the fridge. I smeared some onto a toasted slice of sourdough, here and there dopping on top (this verb I made up has wide cooking applications) a soft teaspoonful of goat’s cheese mashed with a little crème fraiche and flakes of chilli pepper.
In the south of France and Southern Europe,some types of garlic have protected status. But this member of the allium family actually originated in Central Asia and Iran. 76 percent of global supply sold through supermarkets comes, at 23 million tonnes, from China, with India trailing far behind at just under 3 million.
Now is the time to grow it yourself. In fact, most of the year is the time to grow it yourself - indoors, in a flowerpot. September is about the last time you can grow it outdoors. You do not need green fingers. You only need to buy a good healthy bulb. Separate the cloves and bury them, pointy end up, about 2.5cm deep, and wait for the green germ to emerge as a stalk. (You can eat that, too, finely chopped and sprinkled over fish, chicken or in an omelette.)
It’s worth making an effort for garlic. With winter on its way, it’s almost the perfect health food, used medicinally for 3000 years. Studies in different countries have found it effective in lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, and as a natural anticoagulant helping prevent blood clots associated with peripheral arterial occlusive disease. It is also thought to have the power to stimulate white blood cells and other immune cells, with an ability to fight bacterial infections. Garlic extract injected into mice with Candida showed some success in tackling that fungal infection. Garlic may even have an application in battling cancer.
The Ancient Egyptians would have doubted none of these claims. The Ebers Papyrus, the Egyptian medical text from around 1550 BC, records applying it externally to tumours. Hippocrates advocated its use for internal medicine. In exceptionally rare cases, people claim to be allergic to it, although they may be engaged in a sultry affair. When garlic compounds are absorbed into the bloodstream, not only will they emerge through the lungs and affect the breath but also seep out through the pores, neither activity conducive to seduction.
Set aside any prejudice that garlic is no more than an utter stinker. Elizabeth David, the cookery writer who taught the British that eating could be pleasurable, contended that if you swallowed an unpeeled clove whole (an experience I can confirm is akin to gulping down a horse tablet), anything flavoured with garlic that followed wouldn’t cause you to exude powerful fumes. The friends who assured me that this works may just be thoughtfully polite.
Perhaps more reliable is to cook garlic slowly following a blanching in a couple of changes of water, which reduces its anti-social aspect. When using it in cooking, its flavour can often disappear completely if added too soon. Generally, recipes advise its introduction at the very beginning so that it offers no more than a back note. They instruct melting it gently in butter or oil, being careful not to let it turn bitter with burning. But in some recipes - a tomato sauce, say, where you might want a more pronounced flavour - hold some back and add it five minutes before the end of cooking, then the garlic will come through. To get rid of the smell on your fingers after chopping a clove, rub them under running water around any small stainless steel kitchen utensil.
This is a very mild garlic puree that with the addition of 250ml thick cream stretches into a sauce. It goes wonderfully with chicken, steak or fish. Add even more stock and you have an informal garlic soup to which you could add cubes of winter vegetables to poach in the liquid.
- 28 garlic cloves, peeled
- 600ml light chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon redcurrant jelly
- 110g butter, melted
- juice of ½ lemon
- salt and pepper
Bring the garlic cloves to a boil in enough cold water to cover. Reduce heat and poach for 2 minutes. Drain and repeat the process.
Cook the garlic in chicken stock till soft but not mushy, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside and reduce stock by half in a rolling boil.
Put the garlic and 140ml stock into a blender with remaining ingredients and whizz to a paste.
Serve warm as a sauce.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the November 2022 edition of The Bugle.