Italian cuisine has a reputation of being, well, garlicky. No point in denying it, and a great many of the Italian recipes one finds in English-language food-related newsgroups and recipe exchanges call for the Noble Bulb in industrial quantities.
But what's the situation on the home front, in Italy? Some may be surprised to discover it's nowhere near as pungent, with the Bulb being kept firmly in check throughout much of the Peninsula; as the Editors of Slowfood's Ricette delle Osterie di Langa
note in presenting Bagna Caoda, Piemonte's great garlic-and-anchovy dipping sauce, overconsumption of garlic is a sure way to spoil either a date or a business meeting, and though not all Italians are businesspeople, nobody wants to make a bad impression.
On the other hand, Italians do consume it moderately, because, as Pellegrino Artusi says, it's healthy: "The ancient Egyptians 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 (my translation, from The Art of Eating Well
, Random House)."
Medical research carried out since Artusi wrote his book in 1891 shows that garlic does other things as well, including lowering blood pressure by dilating small arteries and capillaries (especially in those suffering from arteriosclerosis), reducing blood sugar levels, which helps those suffering from or predisposed to diabetes, and improving respiratory functions, especially in asthmatics and those suffering from emphysema.
Having said this, there's still the problem of garlic breath, which can be in large part prevented through cooking, and Artusi touches on this too, warning that one should cook garlic gently and take care lest it overcook and become unpleasantly bitter.
No business meeting tomorrow, your date likes garlic too, and you want to throw caution to the winds? Keeping in mind that the finer it is chopped the more garlicky it will be, some observations on usage:
1) Garlic Cream
Perfect for adding flavor to butter, light sauces, or creams. It's made by wrapping whole heads of garlic in foil and roasting them for about 40 minutes in a 400 F (200 C) oven, and then squeezing the cloves to extract the pulp and mashing it with a fork or blending it, depending upon how much you are making.
2) Minced Garlic
One of the major ingredients in the soffritto, the mixed minced sauteed herbs that provides the flavor in many Italian dishes, from pasta sauces to stews. It's also excellent for marinating meats or vegetables.
3) Sliced Garlic
Used to flavor the cavities of fish or poultry before they go into the oven (or over the coals in the case of fish). If the slices are cut into match sticks, they are perfect for sticking meats.
4) Crushed Garlic
Used to flavor stews, or legumes, when one wants to remove and discard it before serving the dish. To further temper the garlickyness of the dish, leave the cloves unpeeled.
Finally, here are some recipes guaranteed to satisfy, and should someone later object, you can counter that you're simply looking after your health!