By the mid 1980s, the roasted garlic that I introduced at Chez Panisse twelve years previously had spread far and wide in the United States. Most of the time, it was not understood, and was made by using any old garlic that was available. Roasting older garlic makes an indigestible puree so potent it might as well be raw, so please use the most glorious garlic of all, that from the first crop in spring. The garlic then is fresh and white with pink and purple streaks through the outer leaves, the stems green and soft, the aroma mild and sweet.
If you want to make a garlic puree with the older, drier fresh garlic (which should be as fresh as possible, firm, and free of mildew), it should be poached, not roasted. Take unpeeled cloves and poach them in chicken stock or salted water until soft, about fifteen minutes. Then put them through a food mill or sieve, making a mild white puree for thickening roasting juices to put over chicken, or adding to cream for a pasta sauce, or making garlic soup.
Both the spring garlic and the poached garlic purees stay fresh in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for a week.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Rub the garlic heads with the oil. Strew the thyme in a heavy baking dish just large enough to hold the garlic in a single layer. Place the garlic on the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake until the garlic cloves are just soft when you squeeze them, 30 to 45 minutes.
Take the garlic out of the baking dish. Serve the heads whole (pour melted butter or olive oil over them, and squeeze the puree from each clove to spread on bread or roast lamb) or put them through a food mill to make a puree. Discard the skins. Cover any unused puree tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
To make a butter sauce for poached fish, add garlic puree and either ancho chili puree or a fresh herb to hot shellfish stock, then whisk in chunks of cold butter.
© 2002 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.