If you are serious about becoming an Italian cook, you don’t need to be from Italy. You have to instead act as an Italian would and invite anyone and everyone you know into your kitchen for a home cooked meal, night after night. Everyone enjoys the language of food, especially when cooked from the heart and with the freshest and simplest of ingredients. It’s really that easy. But first, you must have a few essential items on hand at all times or else the evil eye might get you!
If you don’t have this ingredient in your house, and not only in your house, but on your counter-top, in a bowl, right by your stove, then get out now. Stop reading this blog and run, don’t walk, to the store and grab at least 3 big bulbs. Shame on you for having no garlic around! What kind of Italian are you?! We practically bleed this stuff.
I can still smell Sunday mornings in my house when I would wake up as a child to the smells of garlic and onions simmering away in olive oil on the stove, just waiting for my mom to dump in freshly chopped tomatoes, meats and basil, or as we called it, “basilico.” To be exact, my Italian friends, pronounce it baa-SIL-i-co. My Sicilian friends pronounce it buzzleego. But I digress. The garlic had such a strong aroma that it was probably the one thing that would lure me out of my bed and into the kitchen. Once the red sauce was simmering, my dad and I would steal tastes all day long by grabbing a hunk of semolina bread and dunking it right in the pot for a mouthful of heaven. If I was lucky enough to help my mom prepare the sauce, I would love to smash the garlic on the counter-top and chop away, leaving the evidence on my fingers all day long with that familiar smell. To this day, that smell and gasoline are the two I wish I could bottle and wear around like perfume.
HOW TO SMASH GARLIC LIKE AN ITALIAN:
Rachael uses the back of a frying pan. I like that. It’s good and it gets the job done. But the pans are too heavy for me, so I do the same thing but with the bottom of a metal cup. Don’t use glass or ceramic because it will break after one too many smashes. You could also put the back of a knife on top of a clove and press down hard and it will have the same effect-the garlic will slip out of its skin and onto your cutting board. If you do it this way, make sure you use the bottom most part of the palm of your hand and dig into the side of the knife. Also, use the end of the knife closest to the handle or else you might snap the knife in half. Make sure you hold the knife steady with you other hand too. Here is your desired position:
HOW TO STORE GARLIC
Like a good Italian, I cook with alot of garlic. So storing it for me is not an issue. It sits on my counter-top in a ceramic bowl with a little lid. Kind of looks like Pooh’s honey pot. You don’t need to have a jar with a lid, but since this one is not airtight, it’s okay. Don’t use Tupperware or wrap it in plastic because it needs to stay sort of dry and has to breathe, like you and me. Don’t suffocate the garlic! I use this garlic so quickly that it doesn’t stand a chance of rotting. If you add it to olive oil for some reason (I think this was a trend in the 80s), you must put it in the fridge. I wouldn’t recommend doing this because if you want to mix garlic and oil together, just do it when you want to use it. If you are growing garlic and you really have too much to use yourself (I can’t even imagine this concept) then give it away to your friends and tell them to read this blog on how to cook like an Italian.
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANY GARLIC IN THE HOUSE OR CAN’T EAT IT?
First of all, never admit this to ANYONE! Pretend you have loads of garlic all over your house. In fact, you have a necklace made of garlic bulbs, you love it so much. But between you and me, if we are really keeping a secret and you really don’t or can’t use garlic, you can try, sometimes, to replace garlic with shallots, green onions or scallions. They’re all from the same famiglia. Some people also find they like garlic scapes but not the garlic bulbs. I can’t understand any of this.
COOKING WITH GARLIC
One tip I have that I learned from experience is how to keep garlic from burning. Instead of heating your EVOO in a pan and then adding the garlic, add your EVOO to the pan with the heat off, add the minced garlic and then turn the heat on and let it warm up slowly. If you do heat your oil first, don’t let it get screaming hot and then add the garlic or it will immediately burn. Some people like the flavor of burnt garlic, but not me. It’s safer to let the oil warm up slowly and let the garlic cook slowly. Also, keep in mind that garlic cooks quickly so if you are cooking onions and garlic, for example, let the onions cook first for 5 or so minutes, then add the garlic, which only needs about 3 minutes to cook.
Some people don’t want to be eating whole cloves of garlic in their pasta, but they love the flavor. Try what Rachael does-she takes a clove and grates it using a microplane. This is especially handy for dishes that don’t cook very long as the grated garlic just melts into the pan.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE RACHAEL RAY RECIPES USING GARLIC
Now that you are on your way to becoming a true Italian, here’s how you use this glorious bulb called garlic.
Stay tuned! Next up….can you guess? Olio!