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Earlier this week my cousin Natalie trekked it in from Providence to join me in my garden. We pruned tomato plants, staked fava beans and harvested herbs. I had prepared a menu in celebration of my very favorite herb, and as we donned aprons and put a pot of salted water on the stove, basil began to sing out from every corner of my kitchen.
A purple bouquet of rosie basil adorned my dining table. A simple caprese salad took a turn for the gourmet with the addition of grilled peaches and a micro basil garnish; basil gelato churned away inside my ice cream maker as the sweet scent of Thai basil custard still clung to the air. I was adding garlic paste to the classic Italian pesto I was preparing for a pasta dish with penne and sugar snap peas, when Natalie’s glass of Vieux Pontarlier thudded to the table with a start.
“Wha-what is that?” she stammered.
“Just garlic paste,” I responded with the hesitation of the falsely accused.
It seemed so obvious to me that I was startled by her surprise. Truth be told, I hate peeling garlic. It’s a time suck and manicure ruiner. I equally deplore the jarred stuff, so what’s a girl with a penchant for garlic to do?
Make paste! Garlic paste is a cooking staple in my kitchen that I always have on hand–always. It’s nothing more than pureed garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, but it’s nothing short of genius. Garlic paste is a suitable substitute for just about every recipe that calls for sliced, diced or smashed garlic, and it takes only five minutes to make once every 2-3 months.
Simply substitute the paste for the approximate amount of cloves called for in any given recipe. Typically, one clove of garlic accounts for about one half teaspoon of garlic paste.
Garlic paste is one of those easy inventions I came across when catering full-time in The Dinner Belle kitchen. When you’re making garlic crostini for 300 guests, peeling and dicing that many cloves is really not an option. So when I happened upon a tub of peeled garlic from Whole Foods, I took it home and whizzed it into paste in my food processor. Drizzling in enough olive oil to get a creamy consistency, the paste sits in my fridge for months at a time as I take out a teaspoon or two as needed for any of my many garlic-spiked recipes like tomato ragu, fiddlehead frittatas, pork loin, potato salad, sautéed kale, roast salmon, garlic aioli, and of course, pesto.
Fresh garlic is in season from June-August on the East Coast, but local bulbs are saved in cold storage and can be found aplenty at farmers’ markets throughout the year. Imported garlic can be found at supermarkets all year long, and supermarkets are where I typically find those tubs of peeled cloves. So whether you’re warding off vampires, boosting blood flow, preaching garlic’s healing properties or simply savoring its singular umami flavor, ’tis the season to make haste with garlic paste in the kitchen.
Turning my attention back to my stove, my pasta had nearly boiled over when my cousin picked up her glass of absinthe and extended it toward me with a toast.
“To the best cooking tip I never knew I needed,” Natalie exclaimed. “Please put it on your blog.”
Ask and you shall receive.
• 1 pint of whole, peeled Garlic Cloves
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Salt & Pepper
Perhaps the easiest recipe I’ve ever written, garlic paste is nothing more than a puree of garlic and olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper. You can tediously peel garlic bulbs from the store or straight out of your garden for extra authenticity, but out of sheer laziness, I skip that step and buy whole cloves of peeled garlic. They usually come in a half pint container at the supermarket, and I buy two half pints to make a single pint of garlic paste that will last me 2-3 months. As a rule, buy as many pints of garlic cloves as you want garlic paste.
Dump the cloves into the bowl of a food processor or powerful blender (like my Vitamix), and add salt and pepper to taste. Close the lid and puree. Once the garlic has been evenly chopped, continue blending while slowly drizzling in the olive oil through the blender top or the small hole on the food pprocessor’s lid. Add enough olive oil until the paste reaches your desired consistency. Adding about a half cup to one pint of garlic will make a thick pudding-like paste; adding one full cup will create a soupier, thinner oil. Both work, depending upon how you would prefer to use it.
Store the paste in an airtight plastic container or mason jar for months. Over time, the paste will subtly change in both color and flavor, beginning with a sharp, piquant profile in a pale yellow color, and gaining a deeper, golden hue and a rich, caramelized flavor as the months wear on. As it ages, I find myself craving spoonfuls of its sweet and savory flavor and have been known to dip a finger into the bowl for a snappy kick of pure garlic goodness. Make haste with your paste and Eat it Up!