There's a scene in Patricia Cornwell's new novel, "Autopsy," where protagonist Kay Scarpetta makes a garlic bread so mouthwateringly described you can almost smell the aroma of it rising off your Kindle. In real life, Cornwell admits she doesn't know the secret of Scarpetta's bread. "Staci, my partner, she makes garlic bread," the author told me on "Salon Talks" recently. "It is the best thing you've ever tasted, and she won't tell me. There's some secret ingredient in it, and she hides it."
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For the rest of us, garlic bread doesn't have to be a mystery. It only seems daunting because it's a ubiquitous, seemingly simple dish — with a thousand variations. Olive oil or butter? No cheese, or cheese? What kind of cheese? If there's mozzarella involved, have you made cheesy bread, not garlic bread? How much garlic should you use? What kind of bread? Which way should you slice the bread? Is garlic powder a sacrilege, or a requirement?
The best garlic bread, to my mind, is the one you love to make and eat. That said, there is some consensus on what makes a truly exceptional crowd pleaser. In 2021, both Insider and The Kitchn tested out a variety of celebrity chef garlic bread recipes, and in both cases, Guy Fieri's offering emerged the victor. What is it about the mayor of Flavortown's formula that makes it so damn addictive? I would wager that the loads of butter don't hurt. But it's those few shakes of hot sauce that take it completely over the top. Could this be the secret ingredient of Kay Scarpetta's garlic bread too? It's definitely the kind of dish that could inspire a novel, or at least some very enthusiastic poetry.
Process also plays a part here, too. I concur with Fieri and with Preppy Kitchen's John Kanell in believing the less slicing, the better. Split that bread in half, smear it with the good stuff, and figure out the rest at the table. I have tweaked Fieri's bread slightly to make it more of a weeknight family dish, using a smaller loaf and less butter, but a more generous amount of garlic. I also melt the ingredients into the butter, because it infuses every bite with garlic flavor. Finally, I advise that it's crucial to really toast your bread — it should not be pale and limp but unmistakably golden and crunchy. You could, I suppose, use the leftovers for croutons. There will not be any.
Recipe: The world's greatest garlic bread
Inspired by Guy Fieri
- 1 stick of butter
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 minced scallion
- 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, or cilantro if you prefer
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Hot sauce, to taste
- 1 demi loaf of French bread
- 2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat your broiler.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, gently melt your butter. Stir in your garlic, scallion, hot sauce, parsley, salt and pepper. (You can also microwave the butter for 30 seconds or so in a microwave safe bowl to melt.)
Split your bread in half lengthwise and put on a sheet pan, split side facing up.
Gently pour your butter mixture evenly over both pieces of bread. Top with your grated cheese.
Broil for at least 3 minutes, or until completely golden and toasted. Just keep an eye on it. Serve immediately.
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