Thursday 16 June 2011

Amazing Alliums

I cannot tell you how much I love the Allium Family.  Firstly, cooking without onions and garlic would obviously be unthinkable but I am also super-fond of their cousins, shallots, leeks and chives.  Secondly, because I adore their flowers.  Whenever I find a sprouting onion, shallot or garlic in the fridge I always give it to the kids to plant in the garden, which I supplement with the most impressive looking bulbs that I can find from the garden centre and in Spring our garden has a display of fantastic purple and white orbs in varying sizes from the delicate little mauve baubles on the chives right up to the huge spheres in deepest violet of the onions.  Next, you get the onion seeds, which are so delicious for anything from flavouring a Naan to decorating a salad.  And finally, Alliums are scientifically proved to protect against both cardiovascular disease and cancer.  As I said, you can't beat them!

Onions and Garlic are at there best now.  The garlic is just "bulbing" and known as "Wet Garlic" (before they are dried), which means that rather than pealing cloves you can just cut straight through the bulb and slice it like an onion.  It is also delicious baked whole.  Just cut of the top,  season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, fresh herbs like thyme or bay and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Wrap in foil and bake for about 30-40 minutes until completely soft.  The wonderful garlicky puree can then be squeezed out and just squished on some toast or used for all sorts of fantastic dishes.  Try mixing with freshly cooked Borlotti beans, some good olive oil and some finely chopped rosemary and mashing on a piece of Brushcetta (make sure you use a top quality bread such as Poilane). 

All Alliums seem to benefit most by being cooked slowly with olive oil until their natural sugars are released and begin to caramelise.  My freezer seemed to be a bit over-run with pizza dough so I decided to make a couple of Focaccias.  Focaccia is quite simply an Italian bread, similar to a deep-pan pizza that, no matter the topping, should involve a generous amount of Olive Oil.  This acts to produce a golden brown, crispy crust that is to die for.  It has to be fresh out of the oven.  Don't ever believe that it is worth buying a Focaccia from a supermarket shelf.  It will inevitably be a complete contradiction of what it is meant to be - slightly stale, dry and dreary.  You have to make it yourself. And it will be anything but!

The first of my Foccacias' is with caramelised Red Onion, which I just cooked slowly with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil and lots of very finely chopped Rosemary.  The second, I used some confit garlic which I had made a few days ago after finding a glut of garlic in the fridge.

Confit is a method of preserving and cooking very slowly in some type of fat.  The fat acts as a super efficiant protective shield, preventing any oxidation and therefore helping to conserve the contents.  There is no better way of cooking a Duck Leg of a Belly of Pork than this.  The poaching in Duck fat, as I use, renders the fat in the meat, leaving, unbelievably a leaner piece of meat, that is still incredibly succulent and crisps up beautifully with a short burst of high heat at the very end.  With the garlic, it is just cooked very slowly in a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The low temperature will preserve the quality of the oil and you are just left with delicious nuggets of garlic and a fantastic tasting oil. 

The dough I used was just the same as my pizza dough.  Take some out of the freezer (or knock up a fresh batch), allow to de-frost (or prove) and squidge into a frying pan or tin.  Allow to prove again before adding topping of your choice and bake in a hot oven until golden brown.

Confit Garlic

1 cup peeled garlic cloves
Enough Extra Virgin olive oil to cover

Place garlic cloves in a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan. Add the oil. (The oil should cover the cloves).  Heat pan over medium heat. As soon as small bubbles appear, reduce heat to very low (or the lowest setting on your stove: the oil should never reach 180°F and only small bubbles should form in the pan).  Gently cook the garlic for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time, until it is very tender and the cloves look very pale-golden. Remove pan from heat and set aside, allowing the cloves to cool in the oil. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week.

Bring garlic confit to room temperature before using, as the oil will firm up when refrigerated.


  1. Wonderful post - I really enjoyed it and your pictures are beautiful!
    I really fancy making some of that focaccia now.


  2. Wow that garlic confit looks fab!

  3. What a fantastic post.Really interesting! There is nothing better than the taste of caramelised onions! Yum!


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