26 September 2007
My grandfather always said of our island retreat in South Carolina, “if you have to ask what there is to do there, then it's not the right place for you.” He meant, of course, that you weren’t supposed to do anything when you were there, there was the beach and the creek, sunrises, sunsets, birds to watch, sea shells to collect, and if that didn’t fill your day up already, a few good books to read.
The area has changed a lot since my family started going there generations ago, the encroachment of chain stores and fast food outlets is painful, but the island is still relatively untouched and standing on the beach looking out the view is the same. We don’t get there nearly as often since my grandparents passed away over a decade ago, and when we do I’m afraid we don’t quite live up to Grandfather’s mantra. We’ve got a laundry list of things to do: visiting friends, swinging in hammocks, renting bikes, eating shrimp and grits and boiled peanuts, looking at alligators in the state park. Don’t get me wrong, we still plan our days around the tide charts, but we also make sure to go to Frank’s restaurant, where we play bocce on the back court and where we always, always order the G.O.O.P. appetizer.
GOOP (it’s name was the kitchen code for garlic olive oil plate) is an addictively delicious plate full of roasted garlic, speckled with olives and capers and herbs. It’s also perfectly easy to make at home, and it’s as simple as it’s acronym suggests. Basically, put some garlic heads in a pan with some olive oil and herbs and capers, cover and roast for about an hour. That’s all, after it’s cooled you can add some olives if you like, and then you get out your baguette and go to work. Dip the bread in the olive oil, use a knife to spread the soft warm garlic over your bread, or fish an olive out with your fingers. Oh, and have you ever had a fried caper? Boy, you’re in for a treat because capers fry up into crunchy, salty explosions of flavor. This was actually a result of a mistake, I’m pretty sure the restaurant adds both capers and olives after roasting, but I accidentally put them in before, the crunchy capers were a delight, the olives not so much.
GOOP, or if you prefer roasted garlic plate, is a great thing for entertaining, not only because it is easy and delicious, but also because it needs a good bit of time to cool down (don’t want to burn anyone with hot oil now). So, toss it in the oven several hours before your guests are going to arrive, then put it on the back burner while you run around for a half hour hoping your guests don’t knock on the door before you’ve gotten dressed. I recommend one head of garlic per person, because people really devour the stuff. I actually love to make this on a night when I just don’t feel like fixing dinner, just a good baguette, maybe some wedges of cheese or fruit, a movie, and a lot of roasted garlic. It’s just the kind of quiet, simple pleasure that I think my grandfather would have approved of.
G.O.O.P. (Favorite Roasted Garlic Plate)
Roasting garlic turns it's flavor soft and mellow and perfect for enjoying on it's own. Any leftover oil can be filtered and reserved. Serves 4.
4-6 heads garlic
1 1/2 cups olive oil
4 sprigs thyme or rosemary
salt and pepper
1 tbl extra-large capers
mixed olives, optional
baguette or country-style bread for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Cut the garlic through the equator to that the tips of the cloves are exposed, discard top bits. Pour the olive oil into a small roasting dish. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and capers to the oil. Nestle the garlic cut-side down in the dish and cover tightly with foil.
2. Roast the garlic for 45-50 minutes, until the bottoms are well browned and the garlic is soft. Set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes (important! the oil is hot!).
3. To serve: add the olives, if using, and turn the garlic cut side up. Dip your bread in the oil, and scoop out garlic cloves and spread on bread with capers, munch on olives, etc.