Monday, September 9, 2013

The Stinkin' Rose

Is it possible to use too much garlic in cooking? Maybe, but I haven’t hit my personal garlic tipping point yet.

Case in point: Recently, Joe and I planned to make a pesto to use with cheese raviolis, along with some garlic bread. While I picked basil leaves in the garden, he crushed most of a head of garlic. Apparently, he planned for that bowl of crushed garlic to go in both the pesto and on the garlic bread. I misunderstood and threw it all into the food processor for mixing into the pesto.

Okay, that was probably a lot of garlic even for me. And I’m one of those people who buys into its natural antibiotic properties, baking up a head of garlic whenever I feel a cold coming on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — but it’s always so good, I never seem to mind a getting a cold so much.

Back to the pesto…I had to admit that when I tasted it raw, the garlic came through a tad too sharply. However, after only a little time on the stove, allowing it to warm, and when it blended with the creamy ravioli filling, it became deliciously mild and nutty, and remarkably balanced. Well, for my taste. 

I probably can’t be objective when it comes to garlic. I’ve always been nuts about it. When I was much younger, I lived for a time in San Francisco. While we lived there, someone opened the most unique restaurant, The Stinking Rose, in which every dish on the menu contained staggering amounts of garlic. In a city filled with great restaurants, The Stinking Rose remains my favorite. Enough other people must agree because not only is the original in San Francisco still thriving, they now have one in Beverly Hills, too.

Garlic in California isn’t limited to one restaurant, either. Gilroy, California calls itself the “Garlic Capital of the World.” In actuality, Gilroy doesn’t grow more garlic than anywhere else in the world, though they do grow loads there. Its claim to fame comes from the fact that one business, Gilroy Foods, processes more garlic than any other factory worldwide. If you buy your garlic fresh, it may come from Gilroy, but it may not. If you buy it in a jar, however, there’s a good chance that garlic began its life in Gilroy.

Gilroy is also famous for its annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, which truly is the mother of all garlic-celebrating festivals, and I’ve attended more than a few such events in various places. If you plan to go, plan well in advance. It’s tough to get a reservation in a local hotel if you haven’t made your reservations months, if not more than a year, in advance. After all, more than a hundred thousand stinkin’ souls invade this small farming community at festival time. There, you’ll find every kind of food made with garlic. My favorite is garlic French fries. Hot potatoes, hot fat, hot garlic — yum. What’s not to like?

There’s also a Great Garlic Cook-off, celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, a garlic braiding workshop, arts and crafts, live music, and much, much more. They even host a beauty pageant, crowning a Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen and her court, which they choose partly on the girls’ speeches about…well, you can probably guess — garlic. In the arts and crafts section, I still remember a beautifully painted platter depicting bulbs of garlic growing in a colorful garden. Deciding it was too expensive, I didn’t buy it. Sigh…I still wish I had, though.

The only garlic dish I’ve ever tried that I didn’t like is garlic ice cream. If you’ve never had it, you don’t have to attend a garlic festival to find it, you can make it yourself. Chop up lots and lots of garlic. Then mix that with a serving of your favorite flavor of ice cream. I had it mixed in vanilla. It tastes just as you’d imagine, with the raw garlic taste proving to be an oddly sharp compliment to the creamy, sweet ice cream. I somehow thought they would blend into something unique and wonderful. The “unique” certainly happened. But the “wonderful”? Not so much.

But other than ice cream, I think virtually everything can be made better with the addition of garlic.

How about you? What’s your garlic tolerance like?