I’ve done my time running the show behind the swinging doors of high-end restaurants, where there’s something I call the “first dish” phenomenon. They’re the menu items that sell themselves once they go out on the floor: the sight and smell of the first plate creates an “I’ll have what they’re having” cascade. You know from experience that once the first order leaves the kitchen, there will be a dozen more tickets for the same item coming within the next 15 minutes. Picture the perfect head of warm roasted garlic, scented with lemon and rosemary, with crusty bread to smear it on, the right soft sheep’s milk cheese to put on top, and fresh, lightly cured and slightly sweet green olives to go with.
You’ll see a lot of television cooking shows demonstrating the more widely-known technique of trimming the top of a head of garlic, drizzling it with oil, wrapping it in foil, and roasting it for 45 minutes to an hour until the entire head is soft. It’s a lovely presentation, where the garlic takes on an alluring sweetness. It's simple to do: just put your head of garlic on some foil (you can trim the top first or not), drizzle it with oil, and bake in a 325°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour.
You can tell if the garlic's done by piercing it with a paring knife. If the knife travels into the head smoothly, with no resistance, it's ready. Take it out of the oven and let it cool.
This is the presentation I'd have used in a restaurant setting, as you saw in the opening photo.
The other side of the coin in the restaurant universe is the quest for the highest yield from your produce, produced as efficiently as possible. That was the impetus behind the technique I taught my students at the New England Culinary Institute. This method takes a little more time up front, but you get more roasted garlic out of each head, you can actually touch and see your product to measure its progress, and it takes less time to cook.
The first step? Turn the head of garlic upside down and press on it to break it apart.
Next, separate all the extra skin and set it aside. As I used to tell my students, keep the individual cloves in their “pajamas”.
Use a paring knife to trim off any tough, woody ends from the cloves.
Place them in a bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil (Don’t waste expensive extra-virgin oil on this; the flavor of the garlic will overpower it anyway. Plain olive oil is fine.)
Toss the cloves in the bowl to coat them evenly. This can be a lot of fun, but messy if you get too exuberant. Ask me how I know…
Place the cloves in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can even put a foil-wrapped head next to it, so compare cooking times, as I did.
Bake for 20 minutes, and check every 5 minutes after that. When you lightly press down on the clove and it gives under your finger, it’s done. Take the garlic out of the oven and let it cool.
Now just pop each roasted clove out if its skin, and there you are.
The whole head gets squeezed out if its skin, which is also a messy business. You also never get all the garlic out.
I compared the yields of these two methods: as you can see, there’s twice as much roasted garlic to work with from the individual baking method, but it’s not something you’d serve to company. If you’re looking for a bunch of roasted garlic for your mashed potatoes, a spread, or some hummus, the single clove method is likely the way to go.
If you want the more schmantzy presentation, budget some extra time to get the whole head of garlic ready for when you want it (you can do this a few days ahead, refrigerate and reheat).
We used this roasted garlic in the summer recipes for The Baking Sheet, in bread machine and on breads we baked on our grills. I hope these pictures will get you inspired: for a fabulous summer soup, try PJ's white gazpacho, aka Garlic Soup.