If you are a garlic lover, not a vampire, and looking for a “stinking” good dinner menu, then you might want to make reservation at the La Casa Pergola — a cozy Italian restaurant located in the Red Deer downtown district. On September 15 and 16, this restaurant will be hosting their 7th annual Ode to the “Stinking Rose” dinner event. Named after the historical term for garlic, the dinner will feature a whole meal including starter, entree, and a dessert around the pungent herb.
It seems so appropriate that La Casa Pergola is putting on this tribute since garlic is the defining flavour of Italian food and is as essential as violins to an orchestra; it mingles well with other ingredients but imparts its own flavour to the dish.
The tribute to the stinking rose begins with two starters; Gorgonzola and grape salad and fennel, and potato soup. Gorgonzola is an Italian soft textured cheese that has a robust spicy flavour that complements well with the sweet grapes and crisp greens. The garlic in this dish comes in the form of a crunchy caramel cloaking the clove. Candied garlic seems outrageous but it is a real treat and extenuates the salad. The salad is partnered with an anise-scented soup which is reminiscent of the classic creamy potato and leek soup. It is lighter tasting than the typical creamy soups as there is no thick cream added. Instead the garlic is boiled with the potatoes to infuse all the flavours into the spud and then blended into a creamy velvety concoction.
The entree of the meal is Bistecca di Cipolla — a grilled Alberta beef tenderloin steak. This is true garlicky haven and enough garlic flavour to ward Count Dracula from miles away. Perfectly cooked medium rare steak is topped with red onion garlic flavoured port sauce. This is all served with garlic and herb roasted potatoes and sautéed mushrooms and red onions. Please wipe off the drool from your chin . . . there is still dessert to be had!
The sweet note to the meal — a garlic cheese cake garnished with chocolate sauce and crumbled garlic brittle. It really is a superb take on the popular dessert. Unlike what you’re probably imagining, surprisingly the garlic cloves and the other elements of the velvety rich cheesecake dance together in sweet harmony! The creaminess of cheese and the careful caramelization of the garlic brittle strip the characteristic sharp spicy flavor off the garlic. What’s left is a mellowed and subtly sweet flavour that’s still somewhat discernible in a mouthful!
This ode garlic dinner cost $49.95 per person and it is recommended that you make advance reservation. For all those paying tribute to the stinking rose will also take home a booklet that includes recipes and interesting history and myth associated with the garlic. Those who find the herb’s folklore and aroma more appealing than its taste can also order off of La Casa Pergola’s regular menu.
The ancient Egyptians were the first to farm garlic. They worshiped garlic and placed clay models of garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamenin. The little bulbs helped power the building of the great pyramids. Hard-working slaves received a ration of garlic each day to improve their strength and ward off illness. And a mere 15 pounds of this ancient currency would buy a healthy male slave to add to the pyramid-building team.
Folklore holds that garlic repelled vampires, protected against the evil eye and warded off jealous nymphs said to terrorize pregnant women and engaged maidens.
The history of the “stinking rose” has not all been rosy. In certain times and places, people despised garlic. Many Kings who reigned during the 14th century ordered people to stay away from them if they had eaten garlic within the past month. Also, its alleged aphrodisiac qualities made garlic taboo for Tibetan monks.
Ancient Indians believed garlic would lure people away from spiritual endeavors, so it was banned in certain sacred places. What’s more, the upper classes among them felt it would be barbaric to eat such a “common people’s food.” The British considered it as food for the lower rank, and even Shakespeare mentioned it with disdain in several of his plays.
However, as its health benefits began to be recognized garlic climbed up the ranks and was classified as a super food. There has been studies showing that eating garlic lowers cholesterol, ward off coughs and cold and increase blood circulation.
Finally the one negative attribute associated with garlic is it can cause bad breath. But there is a remedy; simply chew a sprig of parsley, or else eat a few coffee beans to freshen your breath after eating garlic!
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madhubadoni.