Bread of the Month: Mastering great garlic bread

garlic01I’ve eaten a lot of good garlic bread, even making some myself (often an herb-infused-in-olive oil version), but I had not eaten GREAT garlic bread until I sat down at the table of Liboria Salerno (for more about her, please see blog entry, “Presenting Pavlova to a ballerina” of 6/16).
garlicCook01The bread was toasted to a perfect crunch, saturated with just the right amount of butter that had been infused with thin slices of garlic, roasted to an ideal aromatic sweetness, sprinkled with a melting net of Parmesan cheese, and topped with….what was that….? “I sprinkle on a little paprika, for color,” Libby tells me.

I have had the good fortune to sit down a number of times at my friend Libby’s table and enjoy her cooking — from meatballs to cannoli — which she crafts with ease and enthusiasm in her mini kitchen in a senior apartment. All of her food is delicious; her garlic bread, exceptional.

She, at 80-something, is the kind of good cook who has rendered her creations to just the right ingredients which are, as in this case the garlic, prepared just the right way. Garlic chopped or pressed for garlic spread01bread puts it in such a state that it will burn your nose hairs off — bitter and hot is not the best taste for garlic bread, unless you like that kind of punishment. This slightly smashed and sliced-thin preparation gives you the garlic taste, but not the burn. The garlic releases its juices and flavors into the softened butter in which it is blended, then it is spread thickly on slabs of good French bread baguette.

She also scores the baguette, cutting slices that stop before going all the way through the crust, to keep the flavorful butter sealed in and make serving the bread a pull-apart ease.

Libby and I, despite living a mere few miles apart, send each other missives across the Napa River that separates us. We believe in mailing out those old-fashioned greetings known as handwritten paper cards, letters, postcards and notes. On one lucky day, I received a postcard with Libby’s lively script, sharing the recipe for “Garlic Bread ala Liboria”! I was thrilled and was soon slicing garlic.

As I attempted the garlic bread, and was using my best and sharpest paring knife to get paper-thin slices of garlic, I couldn’t help but think of the cooking-in-prison scene from “Goodfellas,” where razor blades gave those imperatively thin slices for the Italian feasts the boys were allowed to prepare.

garliccrd01Giddy with my freedom, my paring knife and my newly acquired recipe, I joyfully spread garlic-laced butter generously on bread. A heavy dose of grated Parmesan (I used the same brand of already shredded cheese that Libby used), then that twinkly sprinkling of paprika color.

The bread can accompany anything, from soup to pasta to salad, but really, you almost forget that anything else in the meal exists. It can be the whole meal, eaten alone…or, if you are really lucky, eaten with the friend who knows how to make it best.

Garlic Bread a la Liboria
Makes one loaf

Breads: One sour or sweet French or Italian bread loaf (baguette), split into quarters

Soften butter or margarine (1 to 1-1/2 sticks). Mash peeled garlic cloves (6 to 8) garlic cloves that have been sliced thin. Mix into butter and spread evenly over bread.

Sprinkle grated or shaved Parmesan/Romano cheese (one or both) on top of loaves. Place under broiler and lightly toast. Can sprinkle on a little paprika (before or after baking) for a little color.

Blogger’s Note: While using the oven broiler is the preferred method. I have toasted the garlic bread successfully in a 375 to 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. spread03breadfnl07

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