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When I’m looking for a meal to put me in a coma and stretch the limits of my belly, it’s gotta be chicken parm with rigatoni. If I can work up the nerve to cook, the version that comes out of my kitchen can rival a middle of the road Italian bistro.
If you’re like me, you grew up eating garlic bread from the frozen food section that came in a shiny aluminum bag and was the size of a couch cushion. Mom or Dad would put the bag right into the oven and 30 minutes later, you’ve got garlic bread. That stuff is delicious but we are fancy adults now. We’re going to learn how to make the real stuff today.
Get in your car, buckle your belt and head over to Whole Foods. I like Whole Foods. I always feel a pang of sticker shock when the cashier is done, but you know the supplies are quality.
Once inside, go over to the bakery and grab a baguette. A baguette is a long loaf of bread that looks like a walking stick for toddlers. It comes in a paper sleeve but a third of it hangs out. They don’t make a paper sleeve long enough for a 3 foot stick of bread.
You’re headed to the cheese section next. You’re looking for the hunks of parmigiano reggiano (Parm Reggie) that are individually wrapped in plastic. A small hunk will cost you 15 bucks but you need it. It will last a couple weeks.
Jog over to the produce section. We’re looking for a mesh sock of garlic bulbs. They’re usually at the end of a display, near the onions.
I assume your pantry has salt, pepper, and olive oil. If not, grab what you need.
Hit the dairy aisle next. We’re looking for a couple items here. Butter and Cheese. I’m a sucker for 10 dollar butter. If you put the words local, artisan, pastured, or a little story about the small homestead in NH that it comes from, I’m in. We need a good sized tub of that or a few sticks. For the cheese, grab two packages of shredded mozzarella.
We’re done. Find the shortest aisle, complete the transaction, and speed home.
Lug your bags inside and preheat the oven to 400. Do you have a muffin tray? Nobody makes muffins, but these things are useful twice a year. Line a couple of the muffin holes with tin foil. We’re going to roast the garlic.
On a cutting board, stand the bulb on it’s side and take a quarter inch off the top. You want to expose the little chambers that hold the cloves. The cloves should now be visible with flat tops. Peel most of nature’s crinkly white wrapper off.
Nestle the bulb in your tin foil pocket. Douse it in good olive oil and bundle it up like a present. Make two or three. We need two for the bread.
Slide your muffin tin into the oven and wait 40-60 minutes. Start sneaking peaks after the 40 minute mark. Your whole house should smell like roasted garlic and the cloves will shrink a little and turn golden brown inside their little apartments. Let them cool off so you can handle them. Leave the oven on.
The perfect tool for the next part would be one of those little teeny forks that you get with a cold seafood tower. I don’t own one, but maybe you registered for a set for your wedding? You’ll need to pull the roasted cloves from their cubbies. Make a pile of them on a cutting board.
If you have coarse kosher salt, add a sprinkle to the pile of cloves. With the flat side of your chef knife you're going to grind the pile into a paste. The coarse salt will provide the friction. Grist for the mill.
In a small bowl…
Oh, I forgot. We need that sexy butter to be left out for a few hours. It’s gotta be soft and room temperature and workable.
OK, back to the bowl. Fill it up with a big glob of butter. At least a stick, maybe more. You want a big soft pile. Take a fork and whip the butter a bit just to get it moving and pliable. Take your garlic paste and scrape it into the bowl. You’re going to work the paste into the butter until it’s evenly incorporated. We’re making a compound butter.
For the next part, some discretion is needed based on your household. I’d use at least a whole bulb or more if the end product was for me and I was eating a way a week’s worth of sorrow. For people that don’t like garlic as much, you’ll need to make some decisions. Roasted garlic is much more mild than its raw brethren so you can use a heavier hand.
Do you have one of those wooden blocks that holds fourteen knives like I do? Here’s a chance to use one of the knives that may still have the plastic wrap on it. We need the long sword with the serrated blade (teeth). This is for the baguette. Using the bread knife, splay the loaf open like a book.
Take a regular old spoon that your kids eat cereal with and load up the back side of it with your garlic butter. This is the best spreading tool in your arsenal. Cover every inch of the open baguette in a thick coating. Don’t be shy here. Sprinkle some salt and pepper. To finish, cover the buttered surface generously in shredded cheese.
Drag a cookie sheet out from the noisy drawer under your oven. Put a sheet of foil or parchment paper down so that you aren’t scrubbing burnt cheese off this thing for two hours after dinner.
Into the oven it goes. I think it will need 15 minutes but start frantically checking it every minute or two after the 10 minute mark. You want it to look good enough to eat. For some that want it a little crunchier, go a little longer. For christ’s sake, don’t burn it after all this effort.
When it’s done, pull it out. Cut it into smaller, hand sized pieces that will work well for sponging and scraping. A real pro will plate this up in a lovely basket lined with a clean checkered hand towel. I don’t have any of those items so I usually set the cookie sheet in the middle of the table and warn people that it’s hot.
Make sure to put a couple of pieces on your plate immediately in case you are dining with someone like me who you’ll have to compete with for a fair share.