Fermented black garlic, the mysterious ingredient that’s been exciting chefs for a couple of years, is now showing up in grocery stores. Here it works with just a handful of ingredients to create a rich, satisfying vegetarian meal. Recipe below.
Umami. That savory, meaty fifth taste, only recently named. That’s what I smelled when I opened the bag containing two heads of black garlic. The smell of a really good consomme or perhaps the browned bits in the bottom of the pan after searing a roast.
The funny thing is, the only ingredients in black garlic are garlic, heat and time. No meat, no salt, no stock—nothing to impart that almost meaty scent. I can’t remember now where I first heard of black garlic, but it so fascinated me that I wrote about it for this week’s USA Character Approved Blog post. And I had to cook with it.
Fermented black garlic’s flavor is a mix of sweet, molasses-like caramelization, with definite tangy garlic undertones (but milder and more subtle than regular garlic) and the elusive umami taste, a taste “of the earth.” Some suggest one good way to eat it is simply smooshed and smeared on crackers or little toasts. We tried that. It wasn’t bad, but to us, black garlic seems more of an ensemble player that adds something wonderful to a finished dish, but on its own is lacking something.
As I thought about what to do with this exotic ingredient, I kept coming back to simple recipes that would let the garlic’s taste shine through. After all, that was what I wanted to taste in the dish. In the end, I settled on pasta with a handful of ingredients—good quality olive oil, mushrooms, shallots, black pepper—and some fresh basil and Parmesan added at the very end. It was quite good, if I say so myself, and unlike any other thing we’ve eaten.
Linguine with Mushrooms and Black Garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
a very generous grind of black pepper
6 to 8 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
8 cloves black garlic, peeled and sliced (see Kitchen Notes)
1 medium to large shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
salt, to taste
freshly grated Parmesan
8 ounces uncooked linguine (or other ribbon pasta)
Start a large pot of water to cook linguine. When water boils, start cooking pasta (which should take 9 to 10 minutes—check package instructions). As pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet over a medium flame. Grind black pepper into the oil as it heats. Add mushrooms and black garlic to pan and toss to coat with oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium low and add shallot to pan. Cook, stirring frequently—you want to sweat the shallot, not brown it.
When pasta is done cooking (keep it on the al dente side—it will continue to cook when added to the mushroom garlic mixture), turn off the heat under the skillet. Drain the pasta, reserving a half cup or so of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to combine. Add the basil and toss. Season with salt to taste. If the pasta is too dry (ours wasn’t), add some reserved pasta water, a couple of tablespoons at a time.
Divide the pasta into two pasta bowls. You’ll likely get a lot of pasta in the bowls at first and leave mushrooms, garlic and shallots in the pan. That’s perfect, because you can then spoon them over the tops of the bowls. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.
Working with black garlic. Although it’s never been roasted, the fermenting process softens this garlic greatly. You can peel the sticky, tarry cloves with your fingers. Use a really sharp knife to slice them or you’ll end up smashing them.
Now that we’ve had black garlic in a starring role, we’re eager to try it as more of a bit player. Marion suggested roasting or braising some meat and letting black garlic flavor the liquid, spooning it over the cooking meat. I’m ready to have some right now.
Find out more about black garlic. Read about it in my USA Character Approved Blog post.