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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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The Joys of Garlic

March 7, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments

What percussion is to music, garlic is to Italian food. It’s the driving beat that you don’t immediately notice, but would certainly miss if it weren’t there. Earthy and pungent, garlic’s rarely in the spotlight, but it underlies everything else in the dish, pulling it together into a harmonious whole. Garlic has had a place on the dinner plate since ancient Egypt, but Italian culinary ingenuity elevated garlic dishes into art.

"Garlic is the perfect companion"
“Garlic is the perfect companion”

As its taste will tell you, garlic is a member of the same Allium family of plants as onions, leeks and shallots. Raw garlic is so pungent, it tastes fiery; roasting or sauteing it turns it almost sweet. The volatile flavors of garlic lend themselves to cooking in olive oil or butter, making it a perfect companion for buttery shrimp scampi and flavorful spaghetti puttanesca.

Italian diners eat about 110 million pounds of garlic a year, according to the Italian farmer’s group Coldiretti. For a nation of about 60 million people, that’s a hefty dose of the fragrant bulb. However, garlic doesn’t overwhelm a great Italian sauce because chefs use it with discretion. Brighter flavors like lemon, basil and oregano act as a balance to garlic’s earthiness, while acidic ingredients like balsamic vinegar and tomatoes bring out its sweeter nature. You’ll find garlic if you’re looking for it in a bite of a perfect marinara sauce, but it won’t be all you find. Italian food is anything but timid, so its robust flavors stand up beautifully to garlic’s power.

Hot bowl of minestrone
Hot bowl of minestrone

New studies suggest that garlic might even be good for you. It appears to be good for your digestion, your heart, your cholesterol and your blood sugar levels. You could buy garlic capsules to get all those health benefits, but eating extra garlic on your pizza sounds like much more fun. Some people even say it’s good for the common cold. A hot bowl of minestrone with garlic may not cure your sniffles, but it’ll certainly make you feel better.

If garlic has a single drawback, it’s that pungent aroma. Nibbling a bite of parsley or drinking something with lemon can eliminate it. A light dessert after dinner can also help clear your palate, especially if you pair it with a lemon-kissed espresso. Carlino’s also offers complimentary mints at the bar, so you can enjoy plenty of guiltless garlicky goodness for lunch or dinner.

Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s

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