Tuscan cooking - as in most Italian regions and particularly central-south - use garlic very much. In nearly all recipes in fact the aroma of garlic is asked for without worrying about the difficulty in digesting it.
Garlic (allium sativum) belongs to the Liliaceae family, a plant that present a formed bulb on one part of the stem modified so that the leaves superimpose one over the other storing a reserve substance useful for the nutritional needs of the plant. The bulb of the garlic is covered with a tunic of which inside there are enclosed numerous small bulbs in the form of cloves. The garlic may be white or common so called because it presents a white tunic and it is more widely spread because of its resistance and because of its stronger aroma, or red garlic that is covered with a red tunic: this last one is grown with more difficulty and presents cloves with deformed dimensions, for this reason its cultivation is notably more limited.
A LITTLE HISTORY
In ancient times garlic was already used not only as a flavouring, but also as an edible plant. The workers who worked on the constructions of the great Pyramids of Cheope in Egypt used them daily as a food. Also the Romans used them a lot because they were an excellent restorative, rich in tonic properties and a depurative and they considered this a food particularly useful for the soldiers. The historic Pliny (who died in the year 79 A.D.) judged it to be rich in many therapeutic properties: diuretic, taeniafuge, useful against asthma and jaundice and absolutely capable of combating anger and poison. In the course of the centuries garlic earned other powers and so popular medicine saw in it a force capable of curing many ills, even using it in epidemics.
There are many hypothesis formulated about its origins that consider many different geographical areas. The studiuos Linnaeus said the plant came from Sicily, whereas others guessed that its origins came from other regions such as Egypt, India or Kirgenstan; the hypothesis most credible is that garlic originated from the Steppes of central Asia, from there it spread into the neighbouring zones to arrive, already from ancient times, to Europe.
Its properties most widely known (also because it is shown in many films) from the point of view of folklore is certainly that of keeping away vampires: its bulbs for this purpose were arranged into necklaces to be placed around the neck or to be hung from certain areas of the house; but garlic is also found to be able to combat the "evil eye", until now in certain areas of the countryside (particularly in the land of Siculian (Sicilian) the sorcerer used to put a piece of garlic in a bowl of water with a little salt and some drops of oil in which would be submerged a lock of hair of the person who was under the spell of the "evil eye" and with the adding of some magic formula such as a spell the "evil eye" would disappear.
GARLIC AND HEALTH
Apart from the belief in its magical properties, garlic contains other than mineral salts also the vitamins A, B and C and allicina, an sulpherous essence with a strong antiseptic action. And for this it is a valid antidote for inflammation of the intestinal mucous and its use may be of some benefit against typhus, dysentery and cholera. In the years following the First World War, before being stopped by anti-tubercular medicines, some doctors obtained good results treating tubercolosis with garlic based products. As an antiemetic, or against stomach worms, its consumption enjoyed fame for centuries even if its effectiveness in comparison to the tapeworm is not equal to that of the pinworm. Garlic is also a hypertensive able to lower the arterial pressure and it is useful above all against arteriosclerosis.
COOKING AND GARLIC
The use of garlic in cooking is very widely used, to begin with the altrady famous spaghetti with garlic, oil and red peppers, able to become an improvised meal, it is called for in various soups, sauces, garlic bread; let us remember a use less well known: pickled garlic that is made by putting the cloves of peeled garlic into a glass jar with a little salt and covered in vinegar. After three days the vinegar is substituted with the adding of some sage leaves and peppercorns. All this should be left to infuse in the dark for about a month before being eaten with starters or with boiled meats. These cloves are very light and pleasant. Let us remember also the agliata, a sauce that is made by crushing well the cloves of garlic in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle adding some salt and oil a little at a time (also pepper if you like) and amalgamating with a little of the soft part of bread soaked in white wine vinegar: the results are a smooth and creamy sauce, excellent accompanied with boiled meats and fish.