Back in those days I hadn’t given much thought to how the words on the menu might influence a customer’s choice; the way a sentence reads and flows and sounds, is it clumsy to read, where along the sentence does the star ingredient appear, is it evocative - I hadn’t until this point realised the importance of the menu as a sales tool. I’m not a fan of using superlatives on menus or adjectives for that matter, in magazines maybe, in a cookbook at a push but certainly not on a menu. But it turns out, adding the word caramelised will boost the popularity of most things, and in combination with smoked it was a case of job done girlfriend.
These little caramelised garlics went on to be the star attraction in a number of other dishes and if you have time it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have a jar of them on hand for those ‘can’t-think-of-anything-else-but-we’ve-got-pasta’ moments. They are an adaptation from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s first book, 'Plenty'. My version is a step or two simpler than the original, but the end result in my opinion is exactly the same.
(Portions into 10, starter size)
1 x 24cm pastry case, blind baked and glazed with an egg wash.
6* x fat blubs of garlic (large cloves are easier and quicker to peel than fiddly piddly little things)
450 ml water mixed with: 40ml balsamic vinegar, 3½ tablespoons caster sugar,
1¼ teaspoons of sea salt.
200g soft white creamy cheese (Isle of Wight soft, brie, a young Camembert even…)
2 x whole eggs + 2 x yolks
250ml double cream
Fresh thyme leaves picked from the stalks – enough to fill an egg-cup
Salt and pepper
*How many bulbs of garlic you will need is hard to say. 6 would never be too many, but the best way to estimate is to have your tart case to hand and lay the garlics in there as you peel them before you start cooking. You want at least a single layer, and maybe another half a layer on top of that. Personally, I go for about 2 complete layers.
Preheat the oven to 180 ⁰C.
Peel the garlic cloves but be mindful not to bash the hell out of them in the process, they’ll turn to mush by the time they make it to the pastry case if you do. Keep them whole and intact as best you can.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, and chuck in the garlics. Once the water comes back to the boil, give them 3 minutes and then drain in a colander. Have a tea towel spread on the work surface and tip the hot steaming garlics on to it. The aim here is to get the garlics as dry as possible before the next stage.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat with enough olive oil to coat the base. When it’s hot and starting to shimmer, sling in the now dried-off garlics and toss them around. Keep them moving and get them starting to brown. When you’ve got some colour on all of them, add the vinegar/water mix and turn the heat up a notch.
Keep your eye on them, give the pan a wiggle every now and again, but the point is to cook the garlics and evaporate all the liquid, so in 10 – 15 minutes time you’re left with a dark, sticky mass of cooked and caramelised garlics with just a thick syrup of vinegar left in the pan (as you get closer to achieving this, you might need to turn the heat back down and be on hand to stir).
At this stage I put them in a sieve sat over a bowl and collect the syrup to make a dressing with, but you don’t have to and you could shove the whole lot in the tart, it’s up to you.
Slice the cheese in to wedges just wide enough so they’ll stand upright. Out of one small whole cheese I get about 25 wedges. Arrange these symmetrically in the tart case; I go around the outside first so each slice of tart is guaranteed at least 2 bits of cheese and then use up any left in the centre.
Add half the garlics into the tart case arranging them in-between the cheese. Add a scattering of thyme leaves.
Break the eggs into a bowl with the extra yolks and beat with a fork before adding the double cream and beating to combine. Season this with salt and pepper, start with ¼ teaspoon of salt and taste it. Yes, you do have to, pretend its eggnog. When you’re happy with the seasoning, pour it carefully into the tart case which you have already placed on a baking sheet. Now scatter over the remaining garlics, arranging them accidently on purpose in an artistic fashion, making sure some poke up above the surface of the custard and they’re distributed evenly. Scatter over the rest of the thyme.
Bake it in the oven, for 20 minutes then check it a) for wobble and b) for colour.It will puff up slightly around the edges and there should be no liquid wobble left in the centre, but if it needs longer and the garlics or the edges of the cheese are starting to brown, cover very loosely with some baking paper and give it another 5 minutes, or more if it needs it.
Give it 10 minutes cooling before attempting to eat.