A true Italian at heart

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I have to admit I am a true Italian at heart – as most of my friends know.  And I’m not just one of those people who wants to be Italian just because I have family in NJ or NY (no offense).  My mother’s family is Italian and stems from Pasitano and Genoa and some of my father’s family hails from Sicily.  And of course, I grew up with a short, yet not too loud, Italian grandmother that obviously is the best cook in the world.  We have our secret recipes for sauce and veal and spinach stuffed ravioli that only the select few are privy to.  Our family gatherings are large, loud and quite delicious.  And our holidays and special occasions are filled with pignoli cookies and to die for tiramisu.  Although, as much as I enjoy a variety of ethnic cuisines, I never fail to enjoy cooking or eating anything more than Italian food.

I don’t know what it is, maybe the comforting nostalgia, but I never feel better than when I’m cooking up a huge pot of delicious pasta.  And you’re probably thinking “oh you Italians, with your pasta and garlic.  What’s so special about that?”  Well I’ll tell you.  Pasta is self explanatory – no matter what your heritage, a big bowl of steaming pasta (or noodles, or spaetzle or whatever) is a carb fest that can’t be missed.  However, garlic on the other hand, is an often overlooked, pushed-aside ingredient that can be transformed into something truly magical.  Now in general, I’ll take garlic in any old form – its that good.  But the absolute best way to have garlic – is oven roasted and drenched in olive oil.

I realized this fact last night when I made a huge pot of white bean and rosemary soup.  Great for a crappy and rainy night like tonight.  As it were, I had a spare head of garlic laying around (I am Italian remember?) and decided to throw it in the oven and roast it to give my soup an extra kick.  And kick it did – it kicked butt!!  If you haven’t ever roasted a head of garlic, you’re missing out.  But those of you that have…oh you know.  The delicious scent, the sweet stickiness of the golden brown cloves, the mellow creamy nuttiness it imparts.  I think I’d even wear this in perfume form.  It’s that good.

My friends and family are probably laughing by this point.  Shaking their heads in the realization I’m crazy and yet knowing deep down they completely agree with me.  Roasted garlic is a great addition to any recipe (except for maybe homemade ice cream) and it’s also great by itself shmeared on warmed baguette or served on an antipasto platter.   My preference is to add it to whatever recipe I’m making and save an extra few cloves for bread to serve alongside.  As for my nutrition note – its way healthier to spread a clove of garlic on bread than a chunk of butter!  It’s nothing like the pungent raw garlic that you’re used to cooking with.  It’s truly a complete 180 in terms of flavor.  I suggest throwing in a few heads in the oven tonight and see what I’m talking about!

Roasted garlic:  2 tight heads of garlic (the tighter – the fresher), good olive oil, 2 pieces heavy duty aluminum foil and a nicely preheated oven at 375.  Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the garlic head exposing most of the cloves.  Make a nice little bowel with the foil and nestle each head into the foil.  Drizzle liberally with olive and close up foil packet tightly.  Roast at 375 for 45- 1 hour.  Garlic is done when it looks the picture above!  Enjoy!


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