Back to garlic. Suffice to say that I had to wait till I left home before I discovered what it could do for food - eating it was one of those daring, "forbidden" new experiences which awaited me when I got to university.(Don't get excited - the others were things like curry and stirfries. Food plays a large part in my memories of uni.) And I was immediately hooked.
One of the reasons I'm obsessing over garlic at the moment is that it's the featured plant on this month's page of the garden calendar that I found under the Christmas tree this year. Santa (in the guise of my sister-in-law) brings me one every year. It's always garden related, and it gets pride of place in the kitchen all year. This year the focus is on herbs and spices, and January is garlic.
I talked in Part One of this post about how useful it is to deter insects and fungi in the garden. But of course, as well as being good for plants, it's equally good for us. Leaving aside its folkloristic reputation of protecting against the plague and vampires (though it might not hurt to take the odd plait with you next time you happen to be in Transylvania), it's recognised as being good for the heart, and as protecting against some forms of cancer. This in addition of course to the anti-bacterial properties - something I tried out at Christmas when I managed to slice open my finger with a knife I'd been using to chop the stuff. Can't say it was the pleasantest experience I've ever had, but boy did that cut stay clean...
What was I making at the time? Garlic bread - one of those totally simple foods that always tastes as if it originated in heaven. I always make it to accompany roast chicken and turkey - I'll leave you to guess which I was cooking on Christmas day - but it goes well with a lot of pasta dishes, peppers, all sorts of things.
The easiest way to make it is just to make some vertical slashes in a baguette type loaf (or whatever you can get that's similar), and stuff each slash with a slice of butter and a slice of raw garlic. However, an alternative is to soften the butter first, crush the garlic, and mix the two together along with some finely chopped herbs - I usually use chives or parsley. Then stuff the cuts in the bread with the mix, as before.
Wrap the lot in foil and pop it in the oven at about 400F/200C/gas mark 6 for about ten minutes till the crust is crispy and golden.
OK - it's not the recipe to use if you've got a cholesterol problem or are trying to lose weight. Garlic is often touted as a way to lower cholesterol, but recent research doesn't seem to support the claim. I suspect this sort of garlic bread, with its heavy dependence on butter, was originally a French recipe. If you want something a bit more healthy, there is of course the Italian version, bruschetta, which is just slices of toasted bread plus garlic and tomato. I love Italian food, and much of the best of it are the traditional recipes of the poorer part of the population - one of the most delicious things I ever tasted was Panzanella - a "salad" made with stale bread, oil and tomatoes - a recipe invented so as not to waste left-over bread.
But back to bruschetta. To make bruschetta properly, you need unsalted Tuscan bread and to toast it over an open fire. If that's not possible, use what you can - but bear in mind that you need a trip to Italy if you're going to really understand what's so great about it. Rub a clove of garlic into the toasted bread, dribble some good olive oil over the top, add a bit of salt and a round of very thinly sliced tomato sprinkled with oregano. If all the ingredients are fresh and good quality, it's heaven.