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Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 01:23 pm

Garlic-o-rama

The winning entry from the 2006 Gilroy Garlic Festival

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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 also 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 then there are food festivals — blueberries, wild ramps, peaches, barbecue — in which a single ingredient is fêted 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, held in Gilroy, Calif.

In addition to its “Gourmet Alley,” a row of vendors selling garlic-centric fare (garlic sausage and peppers, garlic-peppersteak sandwiches, scampi, calamari, garlic fries), the festival hosts a “Great Garlic Cookoff,” 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 on their heads.

The winning garlicky entry (five heads, count ’em) comes from the kitchen of Jennifer Malfas, of Orland Park, Ill., who, though she needs to work on shortening up her recipe name, offers a stuffed portobello mushroom that lends itself to improvisation. Although the original includes prosciutto, I think this recipe would do beautifully without the ham for a veggie modification.

Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com

Oh, Baby! Prosciutto-Wrapped Roasted-Garlic Feta- and Rosemary-Stuffed Bellas
Jennifer A. Malfas, winner of the 2006 Gilroy Garlic Festival

Stuffing
Five heads garlic
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 or 3 tablespoons for drizzling
Two 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 them prepackaged at grocery-story deli counters, but a few baguette slices rubbed with a clove of garlic make a good substitute)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bellas
12 baby portobello-mushroom caps
12 slices prosciutto
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
3 or 4 tablespoons chicken stock (or mushroom stock)

Stuffing
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice tops off garlic heads, place them on aluminum foil and drizzle them with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place rosemary sprigs over garlic, wrap them tightly with foil and roast them in the oven for 1 hour. Remove garlic from oven and squeeze pulp into a bowl. Mix with olive oil, chopped rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice (half a lemon’s worth), feta, and toast crumbs. Add salt and pepper as needed. Stuffing can be made in advance, but wait to mix toast crumbs until ready to stuff.

Bellas
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 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 mushrooms are fork-tender.

If using prosciutto, broil mushrooms uncovered for two or three minutes until prosciutto is brown and crisp.

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