Putting Vampires to Flight

Crusty slices of bread are great with Italian food. We can all agree on that. Some people even take it to another level and add cheese, but is there really and truly anything better than buttery garlic bread next to a heaping pile of spaghetti bolognese? There’s just something so ethereal about a warm, crunchy, crusty bread from the bakery coated in a salty, buttery, garlicky spread… I dare say, it takes your basic Italian home cooked meal from “basic” to a hair under “bougie.” Is your mouth watering yet? Mine does when I think about the Roasted Elephant Garlic Bread I made recently from Joanna Gaines’ first volume of her Magnolia Table cookbook.

Her recipe notably different however. If you’ve been sprinkling your buttered bread with garlic powder/salt and have never made roasted garlic; you’re missing a deeper, more life-changing experience. When you roast garlic, it takes on this incredible soft quality that makes it spreadable. Yes, SPREADABLE. It’s the certain je ne sais quoi to garlic bread you didn’t know you needed until now. Once you start making roasted garlic for bread, you won’t go back… no matter that it is an extra step or two. It’s completely worth it.

Joanna takes this recipe in an offbeat direction than a standard garlic bread recipe. She added chives for one thing (and what a pleasant addition they were!), chopped kalamata olives for a meatier twist, and she swapped out ordinary garlic for elephant garlic. Ordinary garlic is all well and good, but if you can snag elephant garlic, you should! Elephant garlic isn’t actually in the garlic family at all as a matter of fact. It’s in the leek family (leeks are another one of my favorites in the allium genus) actually, however it does resemble an overgrown head of garlic. Separate cloves and all. What makes it divergent than ordinary garlic is that it’s much more mild and slightly oniony flavor. Notwithstanding, don’t underestimate it. Elephant garlic will still give you breath that will ward off everyone’s favorite fictitious blood-sucking creature.

I’m sharing my spin below as well as some things I would’ve done differently and some substitutions in the absence of certain ingredients.

Ingredients:
2 elephant garlic heads
2 sticks salted butter, softened
Kosher salt & fresh cracked black pepper
1lg loaf crusty French bread
1c pitted kalamata olives, rough chopped
2/3c chives, finely chopped

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cut off two squares of foil about double the size of each head of garlic. Carefully saw off the top 1/4in-1/2in of each head of garlic and place in the center of each square of foil cut side down.Drop 1tbsp of butter and a pinch each of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper over top of each head. Pull up each corner of the foil and fold together like a little tent around each head of garlic. Crimp to seal and place on a baking sheet. Pop in the oven to roast for 30-45min (depending on size of garlic). When the garlic has roasted, remove the pan from the oven to cool, leaving the oven on. Unwrap each tent and allow the garlic to rest 10-15min to cool enough to handle.
2) While the garlic is resting, slice the loaf of bread lengthwise and lay the two halves, cut side up on a baking sheet. Slide the sheet into the oven to toast the bread for 10min until golden brown.
3) In a med bowl, combine the remaining butter with the olives (or leave on the side like me if you have someone who doesn’t like them), chives, and a pinch of kosher salt. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the skins into the butter mixture and mix thoroughly (I used a hand mixer, but you can use a spoon or fork).
4) Spread the butter mixture over the toast, slice, and serve!

One thing I wish I had done differently (hindsight being 20/20) is the ordering of spreading the butter and toasting the bread. If I had it to do over, I’d smear the butter mixture on the bread prior to gently toasting so that the butter will slither and slink into every nook and crevice of the crusty loaf. I could also ensure using less butter this way since it would perforate throughout. Consequently, this would also mean the even distribution of heat throughout the dish. This alteration of mine is not necessary as the recipe is fine how it’s written, but I would have preferred all to be warm and melted through. Since the bread was toasted before hand, developing a crunchy top layer, the butter had a hard time sinking into the bread. It kinda just sat on top. On that note, I may use less butter next time for the topping regardless just to cut the richness a bit. (I feel I should also mention here that when I usually make roasted garlic, I use a drizzle of grapeseed or olive oil in my foil packets. I rarely use butter. Just a personal taste.)

The kalamata olives felt like a bit of a random element in the whole dish. I like kalamata olives, but they didn’t add much extra for me. It’s nice to try different things and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t! In this case I would say, don’t monkey with the classics too much. Garlic bread is a staple on Italian night in many homes across America. Barring the kalamata olives, this recipe is a nice upgrade from the standard fare. It lends a bit more luxury to a night where simple spaghetti and meat sauce are on the menu.

Elephant garlic is a rarity in my area. A unicorn, if you will. So when I find it, I lay ahold of it as if it’s the last I will ever find. I enjoy it in the season I can get it and I think this kinda makes it that much more special. If you struggle with sourcing it as I have done for years, you can swap it out for 4 heads of standard garlic. If you’re totally over French bread at the moment, a hearty country loaf is also a good switch. Like elephant garlic, chives can also sometimes be hard to find or cost prohibitive in certain markets. You can equally substitute green onions (green and white parts) for the chives without skipping a beat. With all these exchanges, you will still wind up with a delicious accompaniment to your family’s dinner.

What are some of the different ways you’ve had garlic bread?

Currently Reading: Quest for the Best by Stanley Marcus

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