Garlic, the pungent bulb used both raw and cooked as a flavoring ingredient, is composed of numerous small cloves covered in a papery outer skin. It is used as a savory seasoning for almost every course of a meal. Aromatic and almost bitter when raw, garlic becomes delicate and sweet when cooked. It is best purchased as a whole head of dry garlic. Individual cloves can be separated from the head and peeled as needed. Look for fresh garlic heads that are plump and firm; do not purchase more than you will use in 1 or 2 weeks. Store heads of garlic in a cool, dark, dry place.
To peel a garlic clove:
Place the clove on a work surface and cover with the side of a large chef's knife. Press down firmly but carefully on the side of the knife to crush the clove slightly. The dry skin will slip off easily.
To chop or mince garlic:
Using a chef's knife, trim off the root end of the peeled clove. Slice the clove lengthwise. Stack the slices, then cut crosswise. Chop or mince until desired fineness is reached.
To mash garlic into a paste:
Grind peeled cloves with a mortar and pestle. Or, combine with a little salt in a small bowl and mash with a fork.
To roast a head of garlic:
Slice off the top. Gently score around the middle and pull off some loose skin from the top. Tightly wrap with aluminum foil. Set on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven until soft when pierced with a knife, 45-60 minutes.