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Almost Wordless Wednesday: Una Treccia D'Aglio

By February 15, 2012

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With Valentine's Day safely past, we can turn our attention to the Noble Bulb, which -- believe it or not -- is used for the most part in moderation in Italy; recipes that call for more than a clove are rare, and many that do call for it whole, that it may be fished out and discarded when it has imparted what the cook considers to be sufficient garlicky aromas.

Nor is this state of affairs new; Artusi, writing more than a century ago, says:

"The ancient Romans left garlic to the down and out, while King Alfonse of Castil abhorred it to the point that he would punish anybody who dared appear at court with its odor on his breath. Wiser were the ancient Egyptians, who venerated it as a god, perhaps because they had discovered its medicinal qualities. Indeed, it's said that it provides relief to those suffering from hysteria, promotes the secretion of urine, bolsters the stomach, aids in digestion, and, since it cures worms, is a preventive against endemic and epidemic diseases. When sautéing it, take care lest it overcook, because at that point its flavor becomes quite unpleasant. Many people who are inexperienced in the preparation of foods loathe garlic just because they've smelled it on the breath of those who have eaten it raw or badly prepared. They therefore label it a plebeian seasoning and banish it from their kitchens; this fixation deprives them of tasty, wholesome foods like the following dish, which frequently sets my stomach right when it's upset."

This is a hard sell for something considered quite Italian outside of Italy, and the situation is pretty much the same today: There are a few very garlicky dishes, but for the most part Italians like their garlic to contribute to but not be dominant in their foods.

And what was the dish Artusi was suggesting, you wonder? A simple pomarola sauce for pasta, with several whole cloves of garlic added.

A couple of other dishes in which Garlic is Much More Apparent More about garlic in the Italian Diet and a listing of garlicky Italian recipes.

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February 15, 2012 at 9:38 am
(1) Nancy says:

The most garlic-laden pizza I ever tasted was garlic-and-tomato pizza made by friends in Brindisi, Italy (it was covered with sliced garlic!), but most of the Italian pizzas I’ve eaten, and there have been many, had no garlic flavor at all. Contrast that with American pizza – garlic powder everywhere!

February 16, 2012 at 4:55 am
(2) italianfood says:

Just tomato and garlic, with no cheese, is a standard topping called the Marinara. Not sure why, but it is garlicky. Thanks for reminding me of it!


February 15, 2012 at 10:01 am
(3) Newlyweds Guide Francesca says:

This is a fascinating subject and one that my husband, a native Italian, and I, an American, discuss frequently. Since my family comes from Italy, I have known for a long time that garlic is not a dominant flavor in true Italian cuisine, but Italian American food has always smothered itself in the stuff. My husband was shocked when we first started dating and he first started visiting the States by the sheer amount of garlic in every supposedly Italian dish. It actually gets him angry. Great post!

February 16, 2012 at 4:59 am
(4) italianfood says:

Beppe Lo Russo, an Italian food historian friend, says the ramping up of garlic (and to a degree hot pepper) in Italian American restaurants was a marketing ploy to attract Anglos to the restaurants in the early years of the last century by making the food seem racy and risque’. Then Italian Americans came to like the taste, he says, and now…

I think there probably is an element of truth to it. :-/


February 15, 2012 at 10:57 am
(5) Susan says:

Interesting! My husband hates it when I eat Italian out because of the garlic on my breath. It’s good to know that real Italian food doesn’t have to leave the diner reeking.

February 19, 2012 at 11:48 pm
(6) Bobby Rovegno says:

My father always said that most Italian food uses little to no garlic and the more I travel in Italy the more I agree. Italian-American cooking is a whole different ball-game. I remember eating at one restaurant and starting pushing the garlic chunks to the side. By the time I was done I had a tablespoon of chunks sitting on the plate. That’s about double what I use in a dish for six and this was for one.

February 20, 2012 at 1:43 am
(7) Stuart Borken says:

Many of the Italian style menu items I prepare begin with heating olive oil in a pot or saute pan. Into this oil I place garlic cloves sliced into sections. I fry the garlic until I see it just start to brown and then I remove it. It has given its essence to the oil and this lends a garlic flavor to the dish I’m making without dominating. Minced raw garlic stands up well in puttanesca with the strong flavors of capers, red pepper, olives and anchovy.

February 20, 2012 at 11:11 pm
(8) Sharon Moore says:

Like so many things, it really depends on the dish and the way one uses garlic, in addition to the age of the garlic. Young, thinly sliced garlic is very mild and often sweet, minced it can be intense. My family always used it in each dish with reference to these things to honor this honorable place in old world history and use.

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