Garlic Puree

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When garlic is cooked it loses its raw, fiery effect and aftertaste and becomes mild, to be eaten as whole cloves or pureed for sauces. Garlic can be broken up into unpeeled cloves and poached in chicken stock or salted water until soft, then put through a food mill or sieve, making a mild white puree for thickening roasting juices to put over chicken, or to add to cream for a pasta sauce, or to make garlic soup. The puree holds in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for a week. Spread on toast or mixed into a salad dressing, it is spectacular.

But for grilled meats and fish, or simply for serving with some cheese and bread, beer or crisp white wine for lunch or snacks, whole roasted garlic heads are my favorite. I started serving them at Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1976, another first I owe to Richard Olney. At the Santa Fe Bar & Grill, the puree was the basis for many compound butter sauces for the grill.

The garlic should be as fresh as possible and firm, with no mildew. The most glorious garlic is the first crop in the spring, when one wants to poach or bake them whole, pour butter or olive oil over them, squeeze out the puree from each clove, and spread it on bread or roast lamb.

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Ingredients

  • 8 heads garlic
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Heat the oven to 300°F.

Rub the garlic heads with the oil. Spread the thyme out in a heavy baking dish just large enough to hold the garlic in a single layer. Place the garlic on the thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake until the garlic cloves are just soft when you squeeze them, or 30 to 45 minutes.

Take the garlic out of the baking dish. Eat whole or put them through a food mill to make a puree. Discard the skins. Any unused portion stored in the refrigerator will keep for a week. Be sure to cover puree tightly.

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