Repeat after me: caramelization. No, slowly, sound it out: car-a-me-li-za-tion. God thats a beautiful word, isnt it? Sugars are found in the least likely places when you let things slow roast, when they are subjected to car-a-me-li-za-tion. lovely.
Take, for instance, a bulb of garlic. Bite into that: ZING! You will burn off your tongue (do not test this assertion at home, folks, raw garlic munching is not for the faint of heart or taste). Even minced ever so fine, fresh garlic speaks volumes in flavour. And that is delightfully all well and good, a kick, a "bam" as Emeril Legassi made infamous, that I could not imagine hummus or fresh pesto without; even when it is most commonly softened as a prelude for many (any?) dish, garlic is a wonderful aromatic and flavour--but caramelized, it is taken to a level of sublime-ness. It is gooey and sticky, more subtle, yet more rich than its raw state, smear it on bread and youll find yourself licking your fingers.
Baking anything at a low temperature for a little extra time than you might devote to a sautee in a pan, seems to yield similar results. The skin of whatever it might be (parsnips and carrots are among my favorites) crispens and becomes sticky, while the inside, still aldente if done right, is sweet and moist; together the out and in are nutty and, well, caramelly. Its a beautiful thing, when you just let the oven do the work.
Thats what I did tonight. Well I busied myself with other things (such as reading the instruction manual of my NEW CAMERA!!...more later), a small head of cauliflower (ok, not that small, but I was hungry...) broken into florets with a few slices of shallots and a good slug of olive oil roasted away in my toaster oven. Before I sound too repetitive, this is a recipe I posted in the summer, but prepared this way, I swear it is like a whole new meal--plus, I did a few things differently, and quite frankly, I feel it has been improved. Meanwhile, I made a pesto from some toasted (roasted too, actually, alongside the cauliflower, but for only five minutes or so), a good handfull of parsley, a clove of garlic, homemade ricotta salata, and 5 pitted kalamata olives. This only killed about three minutes, while to let the cauliflower tinge itself brown, I had to wait at least twenty--I highly recommend a glass of wine to pass the time. When the cauliflower was near ready, I boiled some fusilli. When that was ready (a mere eight minutes in comparison) I drained it, poured the cooked pasta back in the pot, added the beautifully car-me-lized cauliflower and pesto, gave it all a good toss and tucked in. ohh. Nutty. Thats what I loved about it. Sure it couldve been the walnuts, but the veg itself was nutty. I am nutty, about car-me-li-za-tion.
So we may all be sad that summer is over, but as we transition into winter, lets enjoy fall and all of its caramelly things (toffee-coated apples included, but in a whole different category of splendor); drizzle a head of garlic with olive oil, wrap in foil, put in a low temp'd oven and unwind to the smells for an hour or so, and then sop up the reward for patience with some good bread and a warming meal, or roast your favorite root veg (or brassica) until its exterior is golden--and thats what life'll be.