Baked Garlic

1 or more garlic heads (see note)
Olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper, as needed

When selecting garlic for baking, pick firm, plump heads with unblemished exterior. Cut the stem end from each head of garlic.

Peel away the outer skin covering the whole head of garlic, exposing the cloves, but leaving them intact. Set the garlic heads on a large sheet of aluminum foil in a baking dish, root ends down. Drizzle on the olive oil (about 1 to 2 tablespoons per head) over and around each head and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gather the foil loosely up around the garlic to form a partial cover, and then bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour, or until the cloves look slightly shrivelled and feel tender when gently pressed.

To use in a stir-fry dish, let the heads cool, then snip the pointed end from each individual clove with kitchen shears and squeeze out the tender, mild-flavored clove of garlic. You can prepare them to this point and refrigerate for several days. When stir-frying, simply toss them into the wok or skillet along with the other vegetables. The extra dose of heat will burnish them with a golden luster.

As an appetizer, serve the heads with lots of fresh crunchy French bread, soft butter and cheese. Each person squeezes the soft garlic out of its skin and spreads it on a slice of bread, along with the soft butter and cheese. (For a sit-down dinner party, plan on one head per person. For a buffet-style appetizer, 5 heads should be enough for about 15 people.)

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