“Hello, my name is Jeff, I’ll be your server today.”
“Hi, Jeff. My wife has an allergy to garlic, can you tell me what’s safe for her to eat?”
“Gee, I’ll have to check with the kitchen, what are you interested in?”
“Can you check on today’s soup, on the fish, on the chicken and on today’s special?”
A few minutes later.
“OK, there’s garlic in all of those, and in all the other fish, beef and chicken entrees. The chef suggests a salad–without dressing.”
The above is an amalgam of conversations I’ve had at dozens of restaurants over the years. Most of the time, the wait staff doesn’t know what foods have garlic, far too often the kitchen staff doesn’t know either, or their knowledge is faulty. One restaurant, which we had called the night before to alert them to the question, said a particular dish was garlic free, though the list of ingredients in the sauce included ranch dressing. Ranch dressing has garlic in it.
Here’s a short list of foods my wife cannot safely order:
Pizza, barbecued ribs, Steak Diane, almost anything ‘Italian’, tuna fish, macaroni and cheese.
Wait a minute, macaroni and cheese, tuna fish??
Yes, nearly all ‘fancy’ restaurant versions of macaroni and cheese include garlic. Why? It’s so unnecessary!
As to the tuna fish, we contacted StarKist some years ago, they informed us that their tuna in water includes vegetable stock, and they were not sure whether there was garlic in the stock they get from some of their suppliers.
‘Americanized’ Italian foods nearly always have garlic in them. Interestingly enough, when we were in Turin, Italy, we had very little trouble finding dishes with no garlic in them. In one very nice neighborhood restaurant, there was just one dish on the entire menu that wasn’t safe. We learned from a friendly waiter at another restaurant (the only person in the building who spoke any English), that garlic is seldom used in northern Italian cooking, and never in pizza. (That restaurant, totally invisible until they raise up the steel curtain covering the front at 4pm, was one of the busiest pizza places I’ve ever seen, over the course of a two-hour meal we must have seen at least 200 pizzas go out the door.)
We were in Ottawa, Canada, a few years ago and walked past a Italian restaurant (Vittoria Trattoria) with a beautiful brick wood-fired pizza oven. We went in and asked the hostess if they used garlic in their pizzas. She checked, and, lo and behold, they make their own sauce, from fresh tomatoes–and nothing else! It was one of the best pizzas we’ve had in decades. We ate at that restaurant a total of three times that week. The hostess and chef both expressed surprise when we explained the difficulties we had in the States. The hostess said her father, who learned to cook in Italy years ago, almost never used garlic.
If you research the history of alfredo sauce, it was originally made just from Parmesan cheese, carefully melted so it doesn’t curdle. Adding heavy cream both speeds the process up and helps prevent curdling, and cream is a lot less expensive than Parmesan Reggiano. (Don’t try making it with whole milk, it’ll curdle in seconds!) But nearly every restaurant we’ve been to uses garlic in their alfredo sauce. Again, why? It covers up the flavor of the cheese, and it’s not historically accurate.
I’ve made my own alfredo sauce a few times, it’s a simple sauce, but I’m told Italian chefs often use it as a test when hiring assistants. Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the hardest to get just right.
Another restaurant we visited had a delicious sounding appetizer on the menu, a five cheese bruschetta. When it came, you could smell the garlic from across the room! Worse yet, I tried a piece, and the garlic completely covered up the taste of the five cheeses. After talking to the waiter, and then to the chef, we got one that had no garlic in it. I suggested the chef taste it, it was such an improvement over the garlic-laden one, you could actually taste the interplay of the five cheeses.
The U. S. government doesn’t keep statistics on garlic allergies, but based on conversations we’ve had with friends, I would speculate that 2-3 percent of people have some kind of garlic allergy or, perhaps more accurately, a garlic sensitivity. In my wife’s case, she inherited it from her father. In both cases, it was an allergy/sensitivity that showed up when they were in their 40’s.
From what I’ve read, it appears that what garlic does, and why it is considered healthy, is to slow down your digestive process. In my wife’s case, it brings it to a near halt, sometimes for up to 18 hours. Having a full feeling after a delicious meal is pleasant, having it until the following morning is not.
Your homework assignment for today is to pick up all the cans of pasta or pizza sauce at the grocery store and check the ingredients for garlic, which, fortunately, is an ingredient they’re required to list. Here’s a shout out to the folks at Hunts, who make two pasta sauces, traditional and mushroom, that don’t include garlic.
For those occasions when I want to make a lot of sauce (like for a big tray of lasagna), here’s my own garlic-free marinara sauce recipe, I think you’ll find that garlic isn’t necessary here, either.
1 medium to large yellow onion, diced
3 tablespoons of butter or canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
A number 10 can of diced tomatoes (if using fresh tomatoes, you’ll need around 8 pounds of them, peeled, juiced and seeded; be sure to remove the seeds, not only do they get stuck in your teeth, they’re bitter)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (the kind in the tubes is the best)
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground marjoram
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Salt to taste (I don’t bother adding any myself)
Cook the onions in the butter/oil until transparent. If a few turn brown on the edges, that’s fine, I think it adds flavor.
Add all the ingredients except the basil and cook on a medium heat for about 45 minutes. Add the basil towards the end, it loses potency if cooked too long. Remove the bay leaf, then blend to produce a smooth sauce. A stick or immersion blender is the perfect tool for this, I recommend the Bamix, not only did they invent the stick blender, they perfected it.
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