Rare is the opportunity to truly experience an ingredient and eat it several different ways in one sitting. Not only is it challenging to pull off for the cook, it can be overwhelming for the eater.
But it's being done; in the past few months, I've heard about chefs playing with asparagus five different ways or offering up an all-bacon prix-fixe menu. There are one-subject cookbooks -- Toast: 60 Ways to Butter Your Bread and Then Some by Jesse Z. Cool and James McNair's Potato Cookbook are just two examples of ingredient specificity.
And there are food festivals -- blueberries, peaches, barbecue -- in which a single ingredient is feted for several days and featured in dishes deemed unimaginable.
Two weeks ago, I went on the festival circuit and ate more garlic in one hour than I had eaten over the past few months (and I eat a lot of garlic). But I did as I was told and dug in at the 28th Gilroy Garlic Festival, in Gilroy, Calif.
In addition to its "Gourmet Alley," a row of vendors selling garlic-centric fare, the festival hosts a "Great Garlic Cook-off," a national recipe contest that culminates in a timed cooking competition complete with judges. Eight contestants from around the country were vying for the $1,000 prize and a chance to wear a garlic-bulb wreath.
The winning entry comes from Jennifer Malfas, of Orland Park, Ill., who although needs to work on shortening up her recipe name, offers a stuffed portobello mushroom that lends itself to improvisation. The original includes prosciutto, but the recipe would do beautifully without ham for a veggie modification.
Oh, Baby! Prosciutto-Wrapped, Roasted Garlic, Feta and Rosemary-Stuffed Bellas
From Jennifer A. Malfas, Orland Park, Ill., first-place winner of the 2006 Gilroy Garlic Festival
5 heads garlic
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2-3 tablespoons for drizzling
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1 1/2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup garlic-toast crumbs (Malfas says you can buy pre-packaged at grocery deli counters, but baguette slices rubbed with a clove of garlic is a good substitute)
Salt and pepper to taste
12 baby portobello mushroom caps
12 slices prosciutto
2-3 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons chicken stock (or mushroom stock)
• Preheat oven to 400. Slice tops off garlic heads, place on aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place rosemary sprigs over garlic, wrap tightly with foil and roast in oven for 1 hour. Remove garlic from oven and squeeze pulp into a bowl. Mix with olive oil, chopped rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice (1/2 lemon's worth), feta and toast crumbs.
• Add salt and pepper as needed. Stuffing can be made in advance, but wait to mix crumbs until ready to stuff.
• Preheat oven to 400. Remove stems from mushrooms and fill caps with stuffing mixture. Wrap with a prosciutto slice and place in baking dish, stuffing side up.
• Drizzle mushroom top with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add enough stock to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover dish with foil and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, spoon pan juices over mushrooms and re-cover dish. Continue baking for an additional 15 minutes, until fork tender.
• If using prosciutto, broil mushrooms uncovered for 2-3 minutes until prosciutto is brown and crisp.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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