I guess you could describe me as an anomaly at the stove: a cook who avoids anything remotely chic or trendy in my saute pan. I am, nevertheless, always on the lookout for new and uncommon seasonings.
A case in point is the latest addition to my bouquet of prerequisite kitchen flavors: a huge but deceptively mild-mannered variety of garlic whose name depends upon where in the United States it is purchased. It is known as elephant garlic in New York and California, jolly white giant garlic in the Midwest, Creole garlic in the South and ballpark garlic in many other places. The latter name is principally because this bulb's size rivals the dimension of a major league baseball.
In my opinion, however, a better name would be breathless garlic, since this hybrid has a culinary attribute more wonderful than its super size. It leaves absolutely no trace on a diner's breath after it is consumed.
Giant garlic has other culinary virtues aside from deodorization. Elephant or Creole or ballpark garlic is easy to peel because it is so thin-skinned and a cinch to mince since it is substantial. The flavor is so subtle that I usually double the amount called for in conventional recipes.
Somewhat Hard to Find
The only problem with the new garlic is its high price. It also is somewhat hard to find. One way is to grow this hybrid.
My No. 1 supplier of elephant garlic is Marilyn J. Hampstead, the herbalist who runs Fox Hill Farms in Parma, Mich. Besides mail-ordering garlic, Hampstead maintains, in my opinion, one of the most complete herb farms in the country; one that is open to the public from April to October. I visited her scented gardens a while back and the memory is still remarkably green.
Hampstead sends a free herb shopping list twice a year, upon request, and includes many valuable tips such as the following prescription for keeping elephant garlic:
"If you have difficulty storing garlic, peel the cloves and place them in a wide mouth jar. Add oil to completely cover the cloves. Keep in a cool place out of direct sunlight. To use, just skewer a clove with a fork, crush and use like fresh garlic."
For more information, write to: Fox Hill Farm, 444 W. Michigan Ave., Box 7, Parma, Mich. 49269.
Here are two of my best garlic recipes. If you make either with elephant garlic, I'd suggest doubling the amount of garlic called for, but that's obviously a matter of personal taste.
2 cloves garlic, cut into quarters
2 shallots, cut into quarters
1 green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup watercress leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 cup strong chicken broth
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
Place garlic, shallots, green pepper, cucumber, watercress, dill, chicken broth and vinegar in food processor container or blender. Blend until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large mixing bowl.
Whisk mayonnaise with sour cream. Whisk into vegetable mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill at least 4 hours. Makes 4 servings.
12 small new potatoes, peeled
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut into serving pieces
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons whipping cream
Chopped fresh parsley
Place potatoes in medium saucepan. Cover with water. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Drain.
Season chicken to taste with salt and pepper. Heat butter with olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Saute chicken until golden, about 10 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to baking dish and sprinkle with rosemary.
Add potatoes to skillet. Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until light brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from skillet and arrange around chicken.
Add mushrooms to skillet. Saute until golden. Remove from skillet and spoon over chicken.
Add garlic to skillet with stock and cream. Bring to boil. Cook over high heat 3 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over chicken. Bake at 325 degrees 25 to 30 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings.