I love an old school, red sauce Italian joint. The menu is full old favorites: lasagne, stuffed shells, meatballs, ravioli and various things given the parmesan treatment – veal, chicken, eggplant. The fanciest thing on the menu, and probably the last update, is penne alla vodka. Salads are usually of the iceberg variety composed of crunchy lettuce with meats, cheeses and pickled pepper things served with an Italian dressing, tangy from red wine vinegar. If you’re fortunate, you’ll find my beloved 5-Finger Cavatelli on the menu too. And your meal always comes with garlic bread. Always.
The garlic bread in these places can vary from very good to passable. If you’re unlucky, they’ve repurposed the sandwich rolls and that’s a bummer. But if you’re lucky, the garlic bread will be made from a soft Italian loaf, brushed generously with a heavily garlicky butter, maybe a bit of parsley and toasted slightly until everything melts together and crusts just a little on the outside. And if you’re very lucky, they’ll give you a whole loaf to tear apart like savages.
As you may be able to tell, I have a thing for the lucky version. Once in a while I’ll invite friends over on a chilly Sunday for pasta and I’ll make this garlic bread. The key is getting the right bread. This is no time to get fancy, to seek out the artisan loaf. A crusty garlic bread baguette is for desperate people. You need to go to your regular grocery store’s bakery department and seek out that soft squishy loaf in the paper sleeve they call “Italian Bread” or “Vienna Loaf”. I was looking at these loaves the other day and realized they use the same, squishy white dough for the “French”, “Vienna” and “Italian” loaves. One is very long, one is short and fat and last one is two, shorter thin loaves in a brown paper sleeve. So pick a size and while I prefer the short, fat “Vienna” for these purposes, any will work well. It isn’t always the case, but squishy is your friend today.
Once you procure the bread, it’s easy going. Finely dice a bunch of fresh garlic cloves and some parsley and mash it together with a stick of butter, a little olive oil and some salt. It’s important to finely dice these items for even distribution – use a garlic press is you have one and really chop that parsley. I’ve gotten a bit lazy at times and not chopped the parsley as fine and that’s ok too.
Once the butter is ready, slice the bread and generously spread the butter mixture on every slice. A little hint here … don’t slice the loaf all the way through. Leave the bottom connected as it keeps everything tidier. Wrap the loaf in foil and bake for 15 minutes, unwrap the top and bake for another 5 minutes. What you get is an incredibly fragrant load, crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside and saturated with wonderful buttery, garlic flavor. I’ve been known to put the whole foil wrapped packet right on the table and let my guests tear into it but I’ve also been a bit more civilized, finished slicing the loaf and placing in a nice bread basket. That’s on you.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: MAMA MIA! My mother always warned us not to fill up on bread but this is so good, sometimes I can’t help myself. Each soft slice has just enough melted garlicky butter for great flavor without becoming a dripping mess. When I made the hand rolled pici pasta with butter tomato sauce the other night, this was the perfect accompaniment. In fact, it is ideal with all those classic Italian dishes and also quite nice on it’s own. You know, if bread for lunch is your thing too.
Eight years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Seven years ago: Oatmeal Jam Bars
Six years ago: Guinness Stout Floats, Blogger Breakfast with David Lebovitz
Five years ago: Chocolate Banoffee Tart
Four years ago: Lemon Tart; Sunday Lunch Polish Easter
Three years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Two years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Last year: Potato Goat Cheese Strudel
OLD SCHOOL GARLIC BREAD
Ideally, I like to spread the garlic butter on both sides of each slice but depending on how big the loaf is, how thickly you slather and how many slices you have, you may run out of butter before finishing. So here’s what I suggest: butter one side of each slice, then go back and do the other side with the remaining butter. Running out of garlic butter halfway through is not acceptable.
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 loaf Italian or Vienna bread (15” x 3 ½”)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Chop the garlic as fine as possible.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, oil, garlic and salt in a bowl until smooth, then stir in the parsley.
- Without cutting completely through bottom, cut bread diagonally into 1″ thick slices with a serrated knife.
- Spread the garlic butter between the slices, starting with one side and then going back with the remaining butter to get the other side (see note above.)
- Wrap loaf in foil, place on a sheet pan and bake in middle of oven for 15 minutes.
- Open the foil and bake for 5 more minutes.
- Serve warm.
- Do ahead: the butter can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before proceeding. The bread can be cut and spread with the butter mixture up to 3 hours ahead before baking. Best served freshly baked/warmed.