While wine societies abound and chili cookoffs proliferate, few ingredients have garnered as dos as garlic.
It has its own fan club, called Lovers of the Stinking Rose. It has its own newsletter -- The Garlic Times. And the sixth Gilroy Garlic Festival, ending today, celebrates garlic in all its forms, from decorating with braids and wreaths to incorporating its pungent essence in everything from perfume and wine to ice cream and jelly.
During the three-day festival -- this year from July 26 to July 28 -- the population of Gilroy, Calif., about 30 minutes from San Jose, swells from 22,000 to five times that number. Fans of the much-maligned member of the lily family congregate to eat garlicky food and inhale the smell of garlic while listening to bands play and watching a Miss Garlic rule with -- what else? -- a garlic crown.
All the food, cooked in a makeshift tent with stoves built in oil drums, is planned to showcase garlic: pasta with garlic pesto sauce, garlic bread, scampi in garlic butter, calamari with garlic marinara, grilled pepper steak sandwich with saut,eed garlic and mushrooms both stuffed with a garlicky bread stuffing and marinated in aromatic garlic vinaigrette.
At last year's festival, about 100,000 servings of the various foods were prepared, using 3,000 pounds of fresh garlic in all.
The Gilroy festival has spawned offshoots and ancillary events around the country. Carolyn Buster, chef at The Cottage in Calumet City, Ill., about 20 miles south of Chicago, had read about the goings-on in Gilroy. She trekked to the festival last year with Jerry, her husband and co- owner of the restaurant. Buster had been asked to pan all-garlic dinner by a local gourmet group. At Gilroy, she not only gained inspiration but also found sources for exotic species, such as Italian purple garlic and German red garlic, which are not readily available.
In all, she used about 140 pounds of garlic for the event, and treated it with methods that ranged from toasting and roasting to smoking and caramelizing.
Buster's menu began with iced vodka served with pickled garlic-stuffed olives and baked potatoes stuffed with garlicky escargot. Diners were then served bouillabaisse with a garlic- fennel sauce and a ravioli trio with various squares sauced with either garlic-caper beurre blanc, anchovy-toasted garlic sauce, or tomato, garlic and purple basil sauce. The entree was smoked partridge with smoked garlic sauce and a garnish of wild mushrooms, and dessert was a frozen garlic souffle with fresh pear puree and caramel sauce. One last touch: essence of garlic in the after-dinner bonbons.
That may sound like garlic overdose, but Buster adds: "Remember that how you handle garlic gives you varying degrees of pungency . . . Once garlic is roasted, it becomes almost sweet."
If you're a garlic groupie, but afraid your friends might shy away from such a concept, take courage from this statistic: At the end of World War II, the per capita consumption of garlic -- still dubbed "Bronx vanilla" in 1930s lunch counter slang and the butt of countless jokes about its negative effect on after-dinner romance -- was less than one-tenth a pound. By last year, the figure was 1.1 pounds per person, according to estimates from the Fresh Garlic Association. So chances are, you wouldn't be alone in your desire for a shared garlic gorge. The stage for a garlic dinner can start with the invitation itself. A cut clove of garlic rubbed on a piece of absorbent, not glossy, paper will hold its aroma for up to three days, presumably enough time to have it delivered in town.
For a communal dinner, guests could be handed an assignment or be asked to choose from a category, such as seafood, meat, poultry or vegetables. This multi- dish approach makes a wonderful outdoor buffet, with a tossed salad with garlic dressing added for color. One last touch: Martha Rose Shulman, author of Garlic Cookbook, sprigs of raw parsley will calm any residual dragon breath.
You and your friends probably have enough garlic-laced recipes in your file of favorites to construct a menu, but here is one, a variation on garlic bread, that won top honors in 1983 at Gilroy for Neil Mahony of Brier, Wash. MAHONY'S BRUSCHETTA
Serves 6 1 loaf French or Italian bread 10 cloves garlic, peeled 3/4 cup olive oil 11/2 cups heavy cream 1/2 cup Locatelli or Romano cheese, grated 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon chopped parsley Paprika
Cut bread diagonally into 1-inch slices without cutting through the bottom crust.
In a food processor or blender, chop the garlic fine and then slowly add the olive oil to make a thin paste. Brush the paste on all cut surfaces of the bread and the top and side crusts. Place the loaf on a rack over a pan to catch the drippings and bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the top is crisp-looking.
While bread is baking, heat the cream to the simmer point and slowly stir in the cheese with a wire whisk, beating until smooth. Stir in the butter and keep sauce warm.
Place the bread in a warmed, shallow serving dish with sides and pour the sauce over. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika and serve.
Serving suggestion: alone as a first course, or with a tossed salad as a light supper or lunch, accompanied by a California chardonnay or French sancerre.