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Roasted garlic stands in for fat you may miss

If you're thinking healthy eating condemns you to bland, flavorless foods, you've clearly never tried roasted garlic.

Roasting a head of garlic not only is an almost effortless way to mellow its harsh bite, it's also a delicious way to create a lush, concentrated puree perfect for dressing up all manner of foods, from a simple slice of bread to poultry and salads.

The richly flavored pulp of roasted garlic cloves is smooth, fat-free and has a consistency similar to softened butter.

'For the diet conscious, it is a godsend,' says Barbara Kafka, author of the cookbook 'Roasting: A Simple Art.' 'Its sticky texture and round feel in the mouth substitute divinely for fat and also helps ingredients and flavors bind together.'

For instance, a salad dressing that has roasted garlic blended into it coats greens much the same way creamy, fattier dressings will. Kafka also suggests using roasted garlic to finish soups and sauces, or even spooned over baked potatoes instead of butter.

Roasting garlic is simple. Start with heads of garlic that have all the cloves intact and are tightly wrapped in the papery skin. Feel the weight of the head of garlic; the heavier the better, as this indicates an abundance of the flavor-packed essential oils.

To roast the garlic, remove as much of the papery outer layer as possible without separating the cloves. Next, slice about 1⁄2-inch off the top of the head, exposing the tops of the individual cloves.

Place the garlic on a square of foil and sprinkle with a tablespoon of water. Loosely wrap the garlic in the foil, then pinch the edges together. Roast in a 400 F oven for 45 minutes. Unwrap and let the garlic cool slightly before squeezing the now pulpy cloves from garlic casings.

Roasted garlic can be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for 4 to 5 days. Here are some other ways to use roasted garlic.

n Dress up a jar of store-bought tomato sauce by blending it with roasted garlic and chopped herbs.

n Make a white bean dip by pureeing the pulp from a head of roasted garlic, a can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed), 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

n Whisk together 3 parts light mayonnaise with 1 part roasted garlic puree, add your favorite chopped fresh herbs and some lemon juice to make a fabulous spread for sandwiches or a dip for fresh vegetables.

n Or use this recipe for creamy roasted garlic dressing, which is similar to a Caesar salad dressing but with about a quarter of the fat. Toss it with some chopped hearts of romaine lettuce and top with whole-grain croutons.

The dressing can be made up to two days in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

SideBar: Recipe

Creamy Roasted Garlic Dressing

Start to finish: 55 minutes (10 minutes active)

Servings: 16 (about 1 cup total)

2 large heads garlic, roasted and cooled

1⁄2 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 anchovy fillets, rinsed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a blender or food processor combine the roasted garlic pulp, yogurt, cheese, oil, lemon juice, mustard and anchovies. Process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.