Roasting mellows, sweetens garlic cloves

  • By Margaret Roach / Editor-In-Chief
  • Wednesday, January 26, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

Do you have any suggestions for serving roasted garlic? Does it have a strong flavor?

Margaret O’Hora, via e-mail

Garlic is renowned for its pungent flavor. But when a bulb is roasted, it becomes far mellower, even somewhat sweeter.

Basic chemistry reveals why garlic tastes different depending on how it’s prepared. Garlic is filled with sulfuric molecules that give cloves their sharp, almost peppery bite. The more finely you chop garlic, the more molecules are released and the more intense the flavor becomes.

If you slice a garlic clove thinly, fewer molecules are released and the flavor is milder.

When garlic is roasted, the cloves are left intact. But what really tames the garlic is exposure to heat, which breaks down its molecules. The result is a gentler flavor. (Consider, for example, the noticeable difference in taste between raw garlic and sauteed garlic.)

Roasting takes the mellowing process a step further, breaking down the compounds even more and yielding cloves that have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.

For a simple appetizer, set out roasted garlic bulbs as a spread for crackers or crusty bread.

Roasted garlic can also give a flavorful boost to other foods. Combine the cloves with goat cheese, work them into butter or whisk them into vinaigrette. Roasted-garlic aioli (a more delicate cousin of the traditional version, which is made with raw garlic) can be used as a spread for sandwiches or a dip for crudites.

Try the following recipes:

Roasted garlic bulbs

2garlic bulbs, papery outer skins discarded

4sprigs thyme

2tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut a small slice (about 1/4-inch) from the top of each bulb, exposing the tops of most of the cloves; discard.

Place bulbs in a baking dish and top with thyme. Drizzle with oil. Cover with foil. Roast bulbs until soft and golden, about 11/4 hours. Makes two.

Roasted-garlic aioli

1roasted garlic bulb (recipe above), cloves peeled

1/2teaspoon coarse salt

3large egg yolks

1/2teaspoon Dijon mustard

3/4cup olive oil

1tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Process garlic cloves, salt, egg yolks and mustard in a food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. With processor running, pour in 1/4 cup oil in a slow, steady stream; process until mixture is slightly thickened, about 10 seconds.

With processor still running, pour in remaining 1/2 cup oil in a slow, steady stream; process until mixture is thick. Stir in lemon juice. Makes about 1 cup.

Note: The yolks in this dish are not cooked. It should not be prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly or anyone whose health is compromised.

I have a lamp base with no shade. What factors should I consider as I shop for a lamp shade?

Maria S., via e-mail

A careful pairing of lamp and shade can create a decorative accessory that enhances a room, even when the light is off.

It’s a good idea to bring the lamp base with you when you shop for shades. A quality lighting store will have shades in a range of materials and shapes (and at varying prices). Having the lamp at hand will let you try out many styles.

There is more than one look for a lamp. The same lamp can look clean and crisp in a paper shade, or stylish and rich in a pleated-silk shade.

Keep in mind the overall look of the room the lamp will be in. The best shade might depend as much on the design of that room as the base on which it sits.

It’s also important to keep things in perspective: From what angle will people see the lamp? Will the shade be high, as with a standing lamp, or low, as with a bedside table lamp?

The bulb and socket shouldn’t be visible; if necessary, change the harp (the metal piece, usually a hoop, that supports the shade) to adjust the shade’s height.

If you have a lamp with a fixed harp, attach risers to the finial stem (at the top of the harp) to raise the shade.

Don’t forget about lighting. When light shines through a shade, it changes the look of the lamp as well as the room. Silk shades, in particular, look dramatically different when lighted.

While a bulb’s wattage is usually a matter of preference, you should never exceed the maximum wattage indicated on the lamp. If your lamp has two sockets, use bulbs of different wattages: one for a soft mood light, the other for a strong task light.

Questions should be addressed to Living, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 609 Greenwich St., Sixth Floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610. Please include your name and daytime telephone number. Questions can also be sent via e-mail to: living@nytimes.com.

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