Years ago, in what feels like another life, I went to visit my former childhood neighbors who had moved back to the south of France. The entire experience was a culinary revelation for me (see: pan bagnat on the beach, bakery-fresh chouquettes every morning) but one meal stood out. A very typical dinner of grilled veggies and local meat was made complete with one tiny packet of foil filled with pure gold: a whole head of garlic, roasted until creamy and fragrant. We squeezed out the cloves and spread them on fresh bread like butter. It was an allium-epiphany.
My love for garlic is well-documented. In my family, every plate of Italian food involves a fork battle over any rogue cloves. But roasting garlic actually transforms it entirely. Garlic’s signature smell and taste are only released when the cloves’ cell walls are broken, as when it’s chopped (or chewed!). Rupturing garlic cells releases allicin, the chemical compound that gives garlic its pungent bite. As garlic cooks, that chemical reaction tones down, and the allium’s natural sugars start to caramelize (similar to onions) instead.
If you’ve ever dropped garlic on a hot pan and left it a little too long, you know how quickly can burn and turn inedibly bitter. But when roasted slowly in the oven in an enclosed space—either wrapped in foil or a lidded, oven-safe pan—garlic turns sweet and the texture completely changes. The result is quite similar to garlic confit, but with way less oil needed. The cloves become soft and spreadable, and taste more mild and sweet than raw, or even sauteed garlic—which is why you can eat so much more of it. It’s a totally new experience, and I highly encourage everyone to try roasting garlic at least once, even if just to try garlic in a new way. Plus, it could not be easier. Here’s how to roast garlic.
Using a sharp knife, cut off about a half inch or less from the top of the top of the head of garlic. Ideally you want to cut off as little as possible while still exposing the top of the cloves. Place the entire head of garlic in a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of fat(I typically use olive oil but you could use clarified butter or schmaltz for a richer flavor) over the whole head. Fat helps the garlic caramelize rather than just steam. Season with a big pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper as well. You can (and I love to) add other flavors in the foil packet while you roast, like a pinch of red pepper flakes and woody herbs like rosemary or thyme. Fold up the packet like you’re wrapping a gift.
You can drop the packet on a sheet pan, or just toss it right into the oven. Roast (or grill!) the garlic for about 45 minutes at 375ºF. The roasting time depends on the size and freshness of the heads of garlic, but ultimately you’re aiming for a golden brown color throughout, and cloves that feel soft and easily squeeze out of their skin. Tip: Roast multiple heads at once to ante up meals throughout the week. Just make sure to use the cloves soon after roasting—Botulism toxins can easily grow on warm or room temperature cooked garlic, so don’t leave out a head of roasted garlic for more than 1-2 hours. Store roasted garlic in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
My favorite way to eat roasted garlic is still simple: smeared on good bread, preferably toasted or grilled and drizzled with olive oil. It tastes like the most intense garlic bread you’d ever had, yet not too garlicky. But if eating straight-up garlic cloves isn’t your thing, here are a few more options to utilize your squidgy garlic gold.
Resident Baking BFF Erin McDowell’s favorite deep dish pizza involves roasted garlic and now we see why. Add bitter broccoli rabe and rich bechamel into the picture and you have a perfect balanced pizza that ticks all the boxes.
According to the author, Food52's Resident Pasta Maker, Pasta Social Club’s Meryl Feinstein, this pasta sauce is supremely savory, luxurious, and complex. “Think buttery, salty garlic bread in pasta form.” I was sold at ‘buttery’.
One of the easiest ways to appreciate the full benefit of roasting garlic is to swap it for raw in one of your favorite garlicky recipes. These creamy mashed potatoes contain two whole heads of roasted garlic, but the resulting mash isn’t overpoweringly pungent. It’s buttery, rich, and completely delicious.
This soup puts the flavor of roasted garlic on full display. Its sweet notes shine, especially when paired with salty, briny olive bread-croutons.
Think of this dressing like Caesar’s more sophisticated cousin: It’s got anchovies, it’s got lemon, it’s got egg yolks emulsified into oblivion. It’s also got more umami and depth thanks to a whole head of roasted garlic, Dijon mustard, and sherry vinegar. Use on any and all salads.
These shrimp burgers are outshined by an addictive, citrusy aioli. The creamy concoction is bolstered by a lot of roasted garlic, and would be amazing served alongside pretty much any dish in need of a spread of dip, but especially on a BLT.