It was one of those subzero evenings that this eternal winter has handed us in soul-crushing abundance.
In an attempt to bright-side the weather — look, it’s a starry night — my husband and I decided to pile on the Thinsulate and walk the 11 blocks to dinner. By the time we arrived at the 128 Cafe, we were proceeding at a brisk pace and questioning our sanity.
Once inside, we managed to warm ourselves — psychologically, anyway — on the retro coziness of the restaurant’s knotty pine walls. To thaw out our appetites, we turned to what might be the ultimate in cold-weather comfort: roasted garlic.
A build-it-yourself crostini featuring roasted garlic has been a 128 staple for as long as I can remember, surviving several changes in ownership. That includes last year’s sale to chef Max Thompson, who has retained — and subtly improved — a handful of 128 classics, including that fragrant roasted garlic.
Using the tips of our knives, we coaxed out one clove after another, liberally spreading them on thin spears of grilled bread, then adding a swipe of tangy chèvre, skinny snips of tart apple and dollops of a sweet-hot chutney of peppers and golden raisins.
With each bite, I could feel myself relaxing from February’s grip. Replicating the dish at home immediately shot to the top of my cooking to-do list.
Out came the cookbooks. Turning to four of my steadfast kitchen library gurus — Marcus Samuelsson, Mark Bittman, Deborah Madison and Martha Stewart — I cobbled together a strategy that borrows elements from each of them. Here goes:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rub off most but not all of the garlic’s outer papery skins, leaving enough to hold cloves together.
Using a serrated knife, cut off the top ½ inch from the bulb, exposing the tops of the cloves (some recipes call for leaving the bulb whole, but pre-cutting makes it easier to handle the garlic post-roasting, with minimal difference in the final outcome).
Place garlic in a shallow baking pan and drizzle with 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil per garlic bulb. Add 2 tablespoons water to the bottom of the pan, and if you have a sprig or two of fresh thyme, toss it in.
Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and roast for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the cloves are pliable and slightly browned.
Remove from the oven and allow the garlic to cool until it can be easily handled. Cloves can be squeezed from the bulb or removed with a knife.
Now was the time to follow Thompson’s example, crostini-wise.
Goat cheese and baguette? Check. We were out of apples, but a crisp pear proved a fine substitute. Too time-pressed (OK, too lazy) to prepare chutney myself, I decided to take my chances with our refrigerator’s condiments inventory, rooting out an apple-peach-apricot chutney. Success.
Since then, I’ve discovered that the uses for roasted garlic are limitless. Substitute its mellow richness for raw in sauces, salad dressings and mashed potatoes. Or soups, such as the Sunday Supper recipe.
As for the walk home on that frigid February night, we didn’t. Our dinner companions gave us a lift, although we probably could have hoofed it, because that garlic was warming us from the inside out.
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