Italian Cooking Does Not Require Garlic
The other day I finally got around to posting it on my much-neglected Tumblr page. It's a step-by-step account that leaves room to improvise (includes photos).
I use basic ingredients. No major bells and whistles. It's the little things that count with my (mother's) sauce. Like giving each step the proper time to stew. Using fresh herbs. And, most importantly, allowing the juices of the meats to flavor the sauce. As such, I simply do not need to include what seems to be, annoyingly, the second most beloved ingredient in North America -- garlic. (Bacon, of course, being the first).
Like any other Italian American, I would be mindlessly infatuated with garlic if it weren't for my odd family history. I have an uncle and a grandfather, who, at various times of their lives, swore off garlic. They binged on either loving or hating the stuff, more often than not, hating it. Out of deference to them, my mother frequently eliminated garlic from her cooking.
I didn't miss it then. I don't miss it now.
As somebody who has dabbled deep in South Indian vegetarian cooking -- cut from Ayurvedic cloth -- I have an appreciation for wide-ranging and powerful, but not overpowering flavor. In Ayurveda, you do not cook with garlic or onions. Rather you use asafoetida powder, also know as hing, in its place. This stuff "stinks," but it's not nearly as offensive to the senses as the equivalent to garlic in typical Indian cooking -- chili powder.
Hing is a bit like cannabis. Strong smelling at introduction, but the stench fades fast, still allowing for meaningful and lasting impact.
Walk down a street where there's an Indian restaurant nearby and you're smacked in the face with the smell of chili powder. It's appalling and repugnant really. (Though I must note this does not happen on the approach to my favorite Indian restaurants -- Ayurveda Cafe in Manhattan at 94th and Amsterdam and Govinda's at Venice and Watseka in Culver City, Calif.).