Garlic is one of the most ancient cultivated plants. It is widely appreciated and used, especially in the Mediterranean cuisine, for its beneficial properties and its strong flavour. It features prominently in southern Italian dishes. Because it is widely cultivated, its origins are uncertain, but we know that the Egyptians used it in the 3rd millennium B.C., followed by the Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Indians. Today, it is a key ingredient in many traditional Italian recipes: from the traditional spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli peppers, to the typical basil pesto and Sicilian pesto.
Garlic is grown in all continents, but mainly in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. It is a bulbous plant belonging to the Alliaceae family, which also includes the lily. Due to the shape of its flowers, some botanical experts consider it to be a member of the Amarillidaceae family like onions.Only the bulb, also known as the head, is used for food preparation purposes. It is made up of several cloves (usually from 12 to 16) characterised by a curved shape and wrapped in skins having a paper-like texture. The larger the cloves are, the higher the quality of the garlic and the stronger its taste. The cloves must be fleshy, firm, with no bruises, spots or green shoots, and of roughly the same size.
According to a European legend, garlic is a typical Mediterranean plant. However, it is much more widely used in northern Europe than in southern Italy!The strong, characteristic garlic smell is due to the presence of organic sulphur compounds such as allicin. Garlic odours on the breath can be controlled by eating fresh parsley leaves or chewing on a coffee bean. In European folklore, garlic is associated to vampires: people used to believe that wearing a few garlic heads around their necks in a small bag would keep those dangerous creatures at bay. This belief was based on its anti-bacterial properties, which were known from ancient times: garlic was supposed to protect people from vampires, which were considered as parasites.
Garlic has been used to season a wide variety of dishes since ancient times. Its cloves are added to salads or gently fried in olive oil and used as a base for sauces, stews, fish and vegetable courses. Garlic is the main ingredient of many traditional recipes of the Mediterranean cuisine: from spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli peppers, to basil pesto. Garlic goes well with herbs such as thyme, rosemary and parsley and it is widely used to prepare sauces like Greek scorthalia (garlic, yoghurt and boiled potatoes) or tzatziki, a Greek entrée made with yoghurt, garlic and cucumber.Cannamela garlic, available in powder or flakes, is ideal to season roast meats or roast potatoes, leg of lamb, chicken legs, and can be used to prepare aioli, a typical garlic-flavoured mayonnaise that perfectly complements Mediterranean fish recipes.The more finely garlic is chopped, the stronger will be its flavour. When sautéing garlic, make sure it does not burn, otherwise it will lose its aroma and become rather bitter and difficult to digest