No matter what type you prefer, there are so many fun ways to use garlic at your restaurant
One of my favorite compliments is when a customer comes in with a huge smile on their face and exclaims, “I can smell your pizza all the way down the block!” It’s that fantastic aroma of yeasty baked dough combined with sweet, tangy tomato sauce, creamy cheeses and, if you’re anything like me: lots and lots of garlic. Walking into my shop, one of the first things you will notice on our pizza line is a big container of garlic in extra virgin olive oil. We brush our homemade rolls with it as they pop fresh out of the oven, add it to our meatball sandwiches, and of course, use it as a pizza topping. So why is this plant so synonymous with Italian cuisine?
Garlic is an herb that is related to onions, leeks and chives.
While it is native to Central China and Northeastern Iran, it is now grown all over the world. We are most familiar with a handful of types of garlic but there are actually hundreds of different varieties.
Hardneck (allium ophioscorodon) and softneck (allium sativum) garlic are the two most popular types. There are two different varieties of the softneck garlic: Artichoke and Silverskin. You can find both of these at the grocery store. Artichoke garlic resembles the artichoke vegetable with up to 20 overlapping layers of cloves and a thick, white outer layer. This variety is ideal if you don’t go through it quickly or want to store it, as it lasts up to eight months. Sliverskins, on the other hand, are adaptable to many different climates and have a very high yield.
Rocambole is the most common type of hardneck garlic. It has large, easy to peel cloves with a much more intense flavor than softnecks. The downside is that the shelf life is only four to five months. Garlic scapes, the fragrant, flavor bombs that are so sought after during the late spring to early summer months, come from this type of garlic.
No matter what type you prefer, there are so many fun ways to use garlic at your restaurant.
It acts great as a base for white pizzas instead of making a cream sauce. You can blend it with fresh herbs or greens, Parmesan and nuts for pesto or make a classic marinara pie with paper-thin slices of garlic, olive oil and oregano.
Some other garlicky pizza combinations to try:
- Summer squash and zucchini ribbons, roasted garlic, ricotta and basil.
- Sautéed wild mushroom and garlic, finished with stracciatella and oregano.
- House-made garlic sausage, roasted garlic, mustard greens, mozzarella, marinara, Parmesan.
- Roasted garlic, anchovies, marinara, roasted eggplant, extra virgin olive oil.
- Garlic scapes, garlic oil, rainbow chard, bacon, mozzarella, over easy eggs and fresh herbs. (See recipe at right.)
- Pepperoni, fresh garlic, roasted jalapeños, marinara, mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Thinly sliced potatoes, roasted garlic, Parmesan, thyme and mozzarella.
Garlic is also fantastic on other items besides pizza. It can, and should, show up in dressings, sauces, marinades and seasonings. Think a roasted garlic marinade for chicken wings or a garlicky Caesar dressing. Then, of course, there is classic garlic bread or garlic knots.
A lot of people’s aversion to garlic comes from how it’s handled while raw.
As such, pizza makers and chefs alike have strong opinions on what the best way is to chop up the raw cloves. Many believe (I would say correctly) that if you simply mince garlic in a food processor it leaves a slightly bitter flavor. To prevent this you should thinly slice it, either with a sharp knife or on a micro plane. Depending on your volume and how much garlic you use this isn’t always realistic. One way to counter the bitterness is to mince it and then bath it in extra virgin olive oil. The garlic flavors the oil and the oil in return slows the garlic from oxidizing and fermenting. This also increases the shelf life of the raw garlic.
Another way to mellow the flavor of garlic and add a whole other dimension to it is to roast it. There are a few different ways to do this, depending on how you’re using the finished product as well as how much you’re going through. The first is to roast the whole head of garlic. You can cut off the top of the plant, splash on a little olive oil and either roast the head on a sheet tray or wrap it in tin foil. This is a great option if you have the time and want to use a specific varietal of garlic or are trying to use local garlic. Another way is to buy bulk peeled, raw garlic cloves. You can then cover them in olive oil and cook over a low heat until the cloves become tender.
Garlic doesn’t always need to be the star of the show to add depth to a dish. It is fantastic as a flavoring agent. A lot of the roasted veggies I cook, I add a few smashed garlic cloves to the pan to enhance the flavor. The cloves also add a ton of flavor to pickled vegetables.
Another form is garlic powder. While it has a completely different flavor profile than fresh garlic, it is something that can be utilized in dressings, sauces, marinades and seasoning. Also, depending on what part of the country you are in, it can be an in-demand condiment for slices and pies.
Garlic scapes, as I mentioned above, are the curly green, thin stems that sprout out of the ground in late spring to early summer, which means right about now! They have a very short window that they are available and are insanely tender and delicious with a much milder flavor than the cloves. They are sometimes confused with green garlic but the two are different. Unlike the scape, which grows out of the top of the garlic plant, green garlic is immature garlic. It looks like an overgrown scallion, and usually comes from the softneck variety (as opposed to garlic scapes, which are the hardback).
Whether you are a garlic lover or minimalist user, there are plenty of ways and forms to get your fix.
AUDREY KELLY owns Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, Colorado.