“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” -- Alice May Brock
I couldn't live without garlic. Garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper. Those are the foundations of my home cooking, and garlic is my favorite, although it's probably the least important out of the four. But damn, is it delicious. I know people who cook without garlic, but I don't understand them.
Garlic is largely what got me into cooking-- real cooking, the way I do it now. Mark Bittman's Pan Sauce recipe, which begins with an aromatic vegetable, sauteed in fat or oil, then add a little salt and pepper and a little flavorful liquid. (Usually, but not always, an acid.) That's the beginning of most of what I do in the kitchen, that's the beginning of almost every meal that's based on what I have in the house, rather than a recipe and a grocery trip. Discovering that, and mastering garlic, dramatically expanded the range and power of my kitchenosity.
Usually garlic is the foundation of a dish, rather than a centerpiece, but sometimes, man, I should want some barely crisp, chewy, browned-until-sweet garlic, and whatever it's on is just the delivery mechanism. My mom has a recipe for shrimp with fried garlic (which I really need to get for myself) but I make pasta.
Linguine with Garlic
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed or roughly chopped
1/4 lb. of linguine (or other pasta, but linguine is ideal)
2 tbs olive oil
salt & pepper
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the pasta 6-8 minutes, or until chewy. (al dente!)
2. Put the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Saute the garlic until it begins to brown. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
3. Toss oil and pasta together. Serve.
Variation: Linguine with Fried Eggs
As the garlic softens, break 2 (or more, when I'm really hungry) eggs into the pan and fry them in oil until the white is hard but the yolk is still runny. Break up the egg some as you toss it together with the pasta; the yolk and top of the white will finish cooking in the heat of the pasta and oil, and create a delicious, creamy sauce.
The non-egg version is actually new for me. I picked up Spaghetti with Fried Eggs in college, made it a bunch, and eventually determined that I really needed to leave the garlic in the final product. And add more garlic. A lot more.
Just garlic is another lesson I learned from Bittman, and it is a delicious lesson indeed. He adds chiles and a few other spices, and while I'm sure that's delicious, garlic, olive oil, and boxed pasta are the things that I always have in the house (in great, Costco-provided quantity!) so that's what I go for when I really need some cheap, easy comfort food.