Warning: This will fill your home with the most maddening, irresistible, and mouth-watering aromas imaginable. We're talking about whole heads of garlic roasted with olive oil until each individual clove is completely golden and butter-soft — perfect for spreading on a spare piece of baguette or mashing into a salad dressing. Perfect, really, for just about anything.
As far as near-magical transformations go, roasted garlic should get a standing ovation. Through the simple alchemy of hot oven heat, garlic starts off raw and crunchy and astringent, and it emerges soft and caramelized with a gentler flavor that borders on sweetness. It's like night and day.
This is a particularly fine thing to do with older heads of garlic that have been languishing in the cupboard for a little too long, but you needn't wait that long for your roasted garlic fix — fresh heads are just as tasty, if not more so! Roast one head if that's what you have, or several at once. Roasted garlic is something you can never have too much of, and extra can even be frozen for up to 3 months.
I've found that the exact cooking time and depth of the golden color depend on several factors. Generally, heads of garlic will roast to softness in about 45 minutes, but the size of the heads, the variety, and their age can affect the exact cooking time. Start checking them around 40 minutes and continue cooking as long as you like — it's very hard to over-cook garlic! (As a point of reference, the garlic I roasted here came from a friend's garden; it was soft enough to spread after 45 minutes, but was even better when I cooked it for 75 minutes. The cloves never got deeply colored, but they tasted so good I didn't mind at all!)
I recommend throwing a head of garlic in the oven whenever you're making a slow-cooked braise or casserole. The soft cloves make an excellent appetizer with bread or crackers while you're waiting for your meal to be ready. Beyond this simple snack, cloves of roasted garlic can go into salad dressings, sauces, or vegetable dips. You can also use roasted garlic in place of fresh garlic in things like soups and baked dishes.
Do you agree that roasted garlic is the Best Thing Ever? How do you like to use it in your cooking?
Use your fingers to peel away all the loose, papery, outer layers around the head of garlic. Leave the head itself intact with all the cloves connected.
How to Roast Garlic in the Oven
What You Need
1 or more heads of garlic
- Heat the oven to 400°F: Set a rack in the middle position.
- Peel (most of) the paper off the garlic: Use your fingers to peel away all the loose, papery, outer layers around the head of garlic. Leave the head itself intact with all the cloves connected.
- Trim the top off the head of garlic: Trim about 1/4 inch off the top of the head of garlic to expose the tops of the garlic cloves.
- Drizzle with olive oil: Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil over the exposed surface of the garlic, letting the oil sink down into the cloves.
- Wrap in foil and bake: Wrap the garlic aluminum foil and roast in the oven for 40 minutes.
- Begin checking the garlic: After 40 minutes, begin checking the garlic. The garlic is done when a center clove is completely soft when pierced with a paring knife. Even once soft, you can continue roasting until deeply golden for a more caramelized flavor — check the garlic every 10 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size of your garlic, the variety, and its age.
- Use or store the garlic: Let the garlic cool slightly, and then serve. Press on the bottom of a clove to push it out of its paper. Roasted garlic can also be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months.
- Speedy Roasted Garlic Trick: While less visually stunning, separating the head of garlic into individual cloves will make the cloves roast more quickly. Leave the cloves intact and covered with their paper skin, toss with olive oil, and roast in a foil packet until soft.
Ways to Use Roasted Garlic
- Spread on bread or crackers
- Mashed into salad dressing
- Mashed into hummus, baba ganoush, or other spreads
- Used in place of raw garlic in soups, casseroles, and sauces
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This post and recipe have been updated. Originally published December 6, 2005
(Images: Emma Christensen)