Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Garlic & Proust: How to Find Out Who Your Real Friends Are

It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself.
—Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Don't underestimate the importance of messy, imprecise and sometimes smelly personal rituals like garlic spaghetti. It's difficult to get out of the mindset of ritual being the province of traditional religion; after all, it does share a root with the word rite. But if you take it back even farther, it also shares a root with rhythm, which makes at least as much sense: ritual has as much to do with the beat, the repetitive, familiarly measured flow of action.
It's a way of connecting with personal history, enlivening more abstract, nebulous memories with the more immediate, classical five senses. If nothing else, it's vastly more productive and less creepy means of reminiscing than many others. Proust famously wrote about this phenomenon in In Search of Lost Time, describing and then attempting to deconstruct an inexplicable bliss that came out of eating a bite of madeleine soaked in lime-blossom tea, finally attaching it to time spent with his aunt as a child.

Imprecise memories don't necessarily require precise remembrance. I first learned about garlic spaghetti from a college friend. Our relationship was largely based around cooking together: we lived in the same vegan co-op, worked at the same (non-vegan) restaurant off campus, and found (sometimes invented) plenty of reasons to be hungry and cook together outside of that. To be quite honest, most of my memories of this friendship are messy and smelly, but they're also distinctly delicious.

Garlic spaghetti was a family favorite of his: thick pasta coated in a buttery Parmesan sauce loaded with raw garlic. It may be vegetarian, but health food, this ain't. It started out innocently enough. We'd peel up 4-5 cloves of garlic for a pound of pasta. It was garlicky, but still fairly accessible. However, we had some sort of ongoing need to out-badass the other, and so every time we made it, the garlic content went up. We made this about once a week. By the time I got to making it for my family back home during Winter Break, it had gotten to a point where we were using at least a full bulb of garlic for the two of us. My family thought I had totally lost it and were ruined on the dish, despite being people who like garlic fairly well.

I made it for the first time in several years the other day. My sister and I had, coincidentally, both been thinking about it. I made the sauce with 5 cloves of garlic for the two of us, staying on the conservative side, but wondering how my own tolerance had slipped from the full-bulb dragon-breath days. I thought it could have used a little more garlic.

If you aren't willing to use at least a clove of garlic per person, don't bother. Remember, though, that garlic breath is only a problem for those who don't have it. The friend from whom I learned this dish insisted it was best served with fake bacon bits, and further insisted that they were preferable to real bacon in this case. I don't know that it holds for me, but Bac-Os (or their generic Head Nut-bought equivalent) were an essential piece of the garlic spaghetti ritual in college, and I would be remiss not to mention them. Here, I've tossed some fresh arugula with the hot pasta, letting it wilt gently into the dish, which is an entirely different but, but still nice, touch.

And fear not the leftover garlic spaghetti! For there do you stumble upon another piece of the ritual: the leftover garlic spaghetti omelette. It pretty much explains itself.

Garlic Spaghetti

vegetarian, optionally gluten-free
serves 3-4, takes 30-40 minutes start to finish
  • 1 lb spaghetti (this is the only ingredient with gluten: gluten-free pasta = gluten-free dish)

  • Sauce

  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tblsp. butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg (if you double the recipe, still use 1 egg; 3 or more times the recipe, increase egg)
  • ½ c. good grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 Tsp olive oil

  • Optional accoutrements:
  • fresh ground black pepper (I lied, this is obligatory)
  • fresh arugula or spinach
  • bacon bits, fake or otherwise
  • red pepper flakes, if it isn't hot enough for you already (in the badass times, this was a common addition)

Start by putting the pasta water on to boil. Peel the garlic cloves, grate cheese if necessary. Add ingredients to food processor or blender in the order listed, drizzling in the olive oil last, in a thin stream. The sauce will have a thick, fluffy, almost mayonnaise-like consistency. It is also excellent as a spread on bread, and pairs really well with broccoli.

When pasta is cooked, strain and toss with sauce and fresh greens, if using, until pasta is well-coated and greens are slightly wilted. Serve with black pepper, bac-os, or whatever else appeals to you.

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