Italian food has become synonymous with garlic, but has it become too much of a good thing? Unfortunately, here in the States, many Italian restaurants have gone overboard with garlic, to the point where it’s flavor dominates the entire dish. This is indeed a shame, as when used properly, garlic can do a lot to liven up an otherwise unremarkable dish. It should however, be used in moderation, and prepared as well as cooked properly.
A native of Europe and Central Asia, garlic can be traced as far back as 2600 BC, used often by the Egyptians. Garlic is a hardy annual, bulbous, with narrow flat leaves, and is part of the allium family along with leeks, shallots, and onions. It is available year round, but is freshest between March and August.
The bulb is planted in the late fall, and then harvested in the spring and summer. Like the onion, the entire garlic bulb is almost without odor until it is cut open or bruised, when it produces a strong characteristic odor. Garlic has a very pungent flavor when raw, that mellows and becomes sweet the longer it is cooked. We are lucky enough to grow fresh garlic in our garden here in Umbria that we will harvest in June and this garlic will last us throughout the season here in Italy.
Health Benefits Of Garlic:
Not just an indispensable flavoring ingredient for any kitchen, scientific tests have shown that garlic has many physiological benefits also. Some of these health benefits include lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, preventing blood clots from forming therefore reducing strokes, acting as a natural antibiotic and anti-fungal, having anti-oxidant properties, and garlic has also been shown to help prevent cancer by stimulating the bodies white blood cells and neutralizing some carcinogens.
Raw garlic is used to treat colds and coughs. At the very onset of a cold, you should eat at least two crushed cloves of it, which will thereby help in decreasing the severity of your cold. If you have trouble eating raw garlic, you can try out my 40 Garlic Clove Soup For Colds! I’ve even recently read that garlic can help asthma sufferers such as myself.
Boiled garlic cloves are wonderful as an alternative asthma treatment. Each night before going to sleep, a glass of milk with 3 boiled cloves of garlic to help bring relief for patients with asthma. The asthma attacks may be brought under control by having crushed garlic cloves with malt vinegar as well. I think I may just try this tip myself!
Garlic Storing And Cooking Tips:
- Garlic stored in the open air for too long will lose much of it’s flavor. To store longer than a couple of weeks, peel the cloves and store in olive oil in the refrigerator.
- Purchase garlic that is plump and has unbroken skin. Gently squeeze the garlic bulb between your fingers to check that it feels firm and is not damp. Avoid garlic that is soft, shriveled, and moldy or that has begun to sprout. These may be indications of decay that will cause inferior flavor and texture.
- Depending upon its age and variety, whole garlic bulbs will keep fresh for about a month if stored properly. Inspect the bulb frequently and remove any cloves that appear to be dried out or moldy. Once you break the head of garlic, it greatly reduces its shelf life to just a few days.
- To remove “garlic breath”, fresh parsley is a natural mouth freshener.
- To remove garlic odor from your hands, rub with salt or lemon and rinse under cold water.
- To easily peel garlic cloves, press them against a cutting board with the flat blade of a knife. This will break the skin, and allow you to peel them much easier.
- To add a more subtle garlic flavor to your dish, add the garlic cloves in whole, or in large pieces and remove them before serving. The more you chop the garlic, the stronger the flavor will be.
- The longer you cook garlic, the less it will taste and smell. Therefore if you want a stronger presence, add the garlic just before the cooking time is complete. If just a hint of garlic is desired, add it early in the cooking process.
Nothing is more delicious than a head of roasted garlic, creamy smooth and sweet. Serve with slices of crusty Italian bread to spread the garlic on for a tasty snack or starter. To roast a head of garlic, simple remove the outer layers of skin from several whole garlic bulbs, while leaving them intact.
Cut off about 1/2 inch from the top of the bulb. Place in a small pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add enough broth or water until the bulbs are half covered. Cover the pan with a lid, or aluminum foil, and bake in a 400 degree F. oven for just over an hour. To serve, squeeze the creamy garlic onto slices of bread.
I hope I have given you a new appreciation for the importance of garlic in Italian cuisine, and that you’ll try a few of the suggested recipes.
A Few Of My Favorite Recipes Featuring Garlic:
Deborah Mele 2017