Ok, let’s admit that garlic is a lot less prominent in regional Italian cuisine than USians think. But now, according to the Bene Magazine Blog, some Italian chefs are on a crusade to eliminate it from their recipes entirely. Is this going too far?
I’d say yes.
My favorite food recollection in the whole wide world comes from a trip to the island of Sicily. Garlic figures prominently in it. Really, I remember the garlic, but not the name of the town. (You remember smells better than anything else because, compared to your other senses, the sense of smell passes through one fewer synapse before entering the old grey matter, I’m told. The nose knows.)
In any case, my story unfolds many moons ago. Women in the houses next to where we were staying still lowered baskets to the sidewalk for the egg sellers to fill with the appropriate number of eggs. The basket went up, then returned to the sidewalk with the money. It was that long ago.
We had just gotten off the ferry (I think) and were ravenous. It was early for Italian lunch, maybe 12:15. We saw a restaurant with the doors open. We asked a loitering waiter if we could be fed. “Perche no? E un ristorante!”
So I ordered pasta. It was spaghetti with one of those names that translates to something like, “pasta of the cart driver who fell in love with Amelia the prostitute on the low road to Syracusa.” Who could resist?
Anyway, as the waiter marched off towards the the kitchen, which was located way in the back of the huge restaurant, we twirled our forks in mindless anticipation at an outside table in the front. Within minutes of ordering, the smell of garlic hitting the hot oil filled the street. I mean, the smell was coming from over 100 meters away! A nose full of heaven. We were revived and hadn’t even eaten yet.
Sure, I admit that I like garlic. I also admire the lively cooking of the south. It’s the cooking of people who don’t have a lot to spend on food, from an oft-conquered culture that’s spent hundreds of years learning to craft commonly available local ingredients into a lively and recognizable cuisine. Mothers labor over hot stoves and punch pasta dough into submission with their big hands. Chefs can’t mess with the tradition without screwing it up—it’s that good.
So yes, I’m prejudiced. Feel free to lop off my insolent, peasant tongue if you ever see me in the streets eating unwisely.
Recently chef Filippo La Mantia, a Sicilian with a restaurant in Rome, proclaimed “I will never use garlic!” according to USA Today. He’s evidently part of a campaign to eliminate garlic in Italian food. Maybe that’s why he’s not cooking in Sicily—he’d have to avoid Sicilian lynch mobs on the way to his garlic-free kitchen. I hope.
Every once in a while a culture tries to escape its past by “refining” food to death (yes, bread has indeed gotten whiter over the millenia—and now we in the US have achieved perfection in a totally refined bread that is unlikely to be topped for flavorless ickiness—it’s Wonder Bread, if you have to know).
Whenever I hear about new cuisine that aims for achieving “delicate” flavors gleaned from watery presentations (“enjoy the delicate flavors of our lightly boiled fish! Only 47€!”) I run away as fast as my pudgy little legs can carry me.
Assault my taste buds. Bring them alive. Look what delicacy did to American beer.
Not for me, thanks.
Garlic. You can’t eliminate it. Where else you gonna get a head full of toes?