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Snippets from the Italian Scene
On Garlic in Italian Food


Returning more on topic, Kathleen recently wrote, "You make take this for granted, but what a joyful surprise to read recipes without garlic in them! Thank you, thank you, thank you! -- A San Francisco Resident So Overwhelmed By the Pervasiveness of Garlic in EVERYTHING She Has Stopped Eating at Restaurants and Nearly Lost All Pleasure in Reading New Recipes"

Italian cooking does have a reputation of being garlicky, one that's not completely undeserved -- Piemonte's Bagna Caoda comes to mind, as does the Neapolitan Pizza alla Marinara, which is made with just tomato and sliced garlic (no cheese). However, there are large parts of the Peninsula where garlic doesn't play much of a role, appearing only in moderation and well cooked (cooking considerably curtails its power). Artusi touches on the subject with his characteristic style, saying, "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. (My translation, from The Art of Eating Well, Random House; what Artusi then suggests is a simple marinara sauce for pasta with several cloves of garlic added.)" So, bottom line: Make sure what garlic you use is thoroughly cooked, and, in media res stat virtus. If a recipe looks interesting but you think it's overly garlicky, tone it down. The finished dish, after all, has to appeal to you, not to the person who wrote the recipe.

A presto,
Kyle Phillips
Webweaver, About Italian Cuisine

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