My husband and I discovered several years ago that we love roasted garlic. I used to add two or three bulbs to the roasting pan when I was cooking a big “Sunday” chicken, along with carrots and onions. Only recently, however, have I realized that this nutritious, flavor-packed powerhouse is beyond great when added to almost any soup or sauce. Some of our garlic-infused favorites are navy bean and split pea soups, mashed redskin potatoes, and tomato sauce.
If you have discovered that sautéing chopped onions in extra virgin olive oil adds a whole new dimension to so many dishes, then you probably know that if you want to add garlic, you add it when the onions are almost done, since garlic burns easily and gets bitter when overdone. I used to cook garlic this way all the time, with mixed results depending upon how long I let it stay in the hot pan. Too many times, I tried to do a few things at once and would accidentally overcook it, resulting in the dish having a slightly off taste. I finally decided to try gently roasting the garlic first and then adding it to the pot. I used the word “gently” because it really only takes about 45 minutes in a 350 oven for the garlic to get soft enough to squeeze. Any longer than that, and you may burn it.
When the garlic feels soft to the touch, remove it from the oven and let it cool until you can comfortably handle it. The easiest and fastest way to remove the delicate cloves from their papery covers is to pierce the round part that was attached to the plant with a paring knife, going carefully around the circle. Pull that part off. Then, turn the bulb over and, holding it above your simmering soup, sauce or mashed potatoes, squeeze it until every clove is in the pot. Mix well. The rich, deep flavor that this adds cannot be overstated. It has completely reformed many of our favorite concoctions, most notably soups, such as navy bean and split pea. Occasionally, I will add it to mashed potatoes to give them a different, “gourmet” flair. Now, I always add roasted garlic to my tomato sauce because it has made such a drastic improvement. The sauce is great with spaghetti, of course, but also with all other pasta dishes as well, including my favorite addiction, lasagna. But that’s a whole other story!