Garlic is an interesting vegetable. Its flavour and pungent after-effect divides people into those who do ‘do’ garlic and those who don’t ‘do’ garlic. I used to be one of the latter – loved the taste, but the smell would suffuse my body for days after I ate it. I could feel it fizzing in my blood. I was once sent home from my Saturday morning job at a clothing store because of the aroma I was emitting. “Love garlic too”, said Vaughn, “but let’s face it darling, garlic and fashion just don’t go.”
Over the years I tried to figure out what it was with me and garlic, turns out it is simply a question of how your body reacts to the sulphuric compounds that garlic releases when eaten raw. When garlic is cut or crushed it releases allicin which breaks down further into a variety of organosulfur compounds. These escape through breath and your pores – in the latter, mingling with perspiration: causing you to become full-body aromatic. Not really fair when you consider that, like onions, shallots and chives; garlic is a member of the lily family.
But, I was a travelling girl and no-one needed my stink on bus, plane or train.
So I avoided it – until one fine post-50-something day when I discovered it no longer made me pong. See, getting older has its upside. Now I use it all the time – in part because it is a key component of Mediterranean cooking which I love, in part because of the health benefits and, in part, because I love it.
Sofamother does too – and eats it unashamedly whenever she can. Most memorably at my surprise 50th dinner when my parents, sofabrother and I went to to a posh restaurant that had one of those 8-course set menus, but with options. We all agreed we would allow each other tastes until Glennie’s starter came. A garlic tart – as small as a sliver of the bulb, with golden puff pastry underneath it and, apparently, delicious. I say apparently because “No WAY I am sharing this”, said my mother.
While we were in McGregor over the holidays I roasted a lot of garlic. Adding it to dressings, mayonnaise, marinades. No recipe necessary – you literally pop it into a hot oven until it is soft and squish it out of the papery skin that surrounds each clove. Dollop some into a vinaegrette, or mix it with the oil that you have roasted tomatoes in, add a little lemon juice and some salt to emulsify – and use it as a dressing. Jumbo cloves work best as the little ones tend to disappear. Roasting takes the sting out of garlic and mellows it down to a sweet hum.
Now to the serious stuff. As you know, I love gin too – so I was delighted to stumble on this little gem of a cocktail in “Delancy: A man, a woman, a restaurant, a marriage,’, by Molly Wizenberg. It was (kind-of) invented by her friend Ben. I say kind-of because he learned about it from a cowboy, which made me love it even more. You literally throw cheap gin, a peeled , crushed clove of garlic and a couple of grinds of black pepper into a cocktail shaker with a bunch of ice cubes. Shake until frosty, strain into a cocktail glass and add the crushed clove as a garnish. Molly tells it better than I could so I hope she will forgive me for (literally) taking a page out of her book:
My first run at the cocktail ignored Ben’s advice to use cheap gin – I used Inverroche’s Verdant – and it was not a good match. Way too floral so I pitched that out… sadly. Then I found a bottle of Gilbey’s lurking at the back of the cupboard and tried that. Oh, perfection.
Now, a gentle warning. I was alone when I made this cocktail. And alone as I drank it contemplating the star you see above. Which hangs in my garden in McGregor. And alone when I woke in the morning. Which was just as well because I think that somehow the gin enhanced the smell of the garlic. I can’t find any evidence to back up that claim, but there was a hint of the aroma hanging in the air in the morning. But, I didn’t care. And I still don’t. It is definitely on repeat in my repertoire. The gin picks up the flavour quickly – so manage your exposure to suit your taste, and be generous with the pepper: it adds an earthy kick.
Wizenberg suggests washing your glass out with a light vermouth if you want to create a ‘proper’ martini. I tried with the drizzle that was left in the cocktail shaker and she was right. Adds a little sweetness to the original.
By the way – ‘Delancy’ is a great read. She covers everything in the title with honesty, smarts and gentle wit. And has some kick ass recipes to boot.
This definitely one of them. And, now that I think about it – I may have to take a run at that garlic tart soon too.