Saturday, 16 February 2013

For Bram Stoker (1847 - 1912),

"We went into the room, taking the [garlic] flowers with us. The Professor's actions were certainly odd and not to be found in any pharmacopeia that I ever heard of. First he fastened up the windows and latched them securely. Next, taking a handful of the flowers, he rubbed them all over the sashes, as though to ensure that every whiff of air that might get in would be laden with the garlic smell. Then with the wisp he rubbed all over the jamb of the door, above, below, and at each side, and round the fireplace in the same way. It all seemed grotesque to me, and presently I said, "Well, Professor, I know you always have a reason for what you do, but this certainly puzzles me. It is well we have no skeptic here, or he would say that you were working some spell to keep out an evil spirit." "Perhaps I am!" He answered quietly as he began to make the wreath which Lucy was to wear round her neck."
-- Dracula

I have never understood the choice to make vampires afraid of garlic.

Actually, it wasn't Bram Stoker's choice. The association between vampires and garlic goes a long, long way back. The theory goes that, because garlic is so good for keeping people well, it was mythologised as a deterrent for the evil vampire, who was supposed to represent mosquitoes or viruses or any other blood-tickling annoyance.

And true enough, for the person who wants to feel healthy, garlic is an excellent tool. But look at this from the vampire's perspective.

"Hmm... I feel myself craving some ripe human blood."

(Actually, no, according to popular culture* there is always a non-specific accent to the vampire's speech. Let's try this again...)

"Vhhmmm... I vfeel myselv cravvving some ripe uuuuman bluuud. Ahh, a tasty young morsel! Sveet Lucy, vith her creamy flesh und her lovely neck! Und ah, she has seasoned herself. Thank you, young Lucy. You shall taste uv a spicy puttanesca!"

After all, what vampire wouldn't want his or her victims to self-marinate in something savoury-perfumed and, as a bonus, antibacterial? Honestly, placing a garland of garlic around Lucy's neck just seems like a ways to keep her fresh and tasty.

[SPOILER ALERT]. Of course, Lucy is eventually killed and becomes a vampire herself. And when concerned heroes drive a stake through her heart, they fill her mouth with garlic as a final safeguard. Ah, now I get it! You might have to be bitten, die, come back as a vampire, and die again, but eventually, you do get to taste the garlic.

Right, I'm just going to skip all that, if nobody minds. I'm going to develop my own non-human-flesh puttanesca, with ludicrous quantities of garlic, and serve it with red wine and tomatoey sauces that will hopefully not remind anyone of blood.

A nice garlic-chilli crumb couldn't hurt, too. Since pasta a la puttanesca literally means pasta 'in the whorish style,' I might as well succumb to excess. So add a little parmesan too. I might not be self-marinating for any midnight prowlers, but I still want to taste good.

*A lot of my understanding of vampires comes from Leslie Nielson's "Dracula: Dead and Loving It." Like, a lot.

Anti-Vampire Pasta

Serves 2 with leftovers (unless you share with / are a boy)

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2C bread crumbs
3-4 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp minced garlic
1 onion, finely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes in juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 bulbs (yes, bulbs) garlic
1/4C olives
Capers and/or salt, to taste
200g dry spaghetti
Parmesan and parsley, to serve


Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the minced garlic and onion, and cook until softened. Add the bread crumbs, sundried tomatoes, and chilli flakes and toss to coat in the oniony oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are toasted and brown. Transfer the crumbs to a serving bowl and wipe out the pan - you can use it again in a minute.

Boil an enormous pot of water, and add lots of salt. As it's boiling, rip apart the bulbs of garlic and brush any loose skin off the cloves, but don't peel them. Throw them in the now-bubbly water and boil for a couple of minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and slip of the skins. (Boiling the garlic isn't entirely necessary, but it softens the skins, makes the garlic easy to peel, and gives it a mellow flavour. You can skip this step if you don't mind peeling all those cloves the old-fashioned way.)

Put the spaghetti on to boil according to the packet instructions.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil. Warm the peeled garlic cloves until soft and just starting to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, paste, olives, capers, and salt, and simmer on medium-low heat while the pasta cooks.

When the pasta is done, drain it and transfer to the pan of garlicky sauce. Toss through and plate up, topping the pasta mounds with chopped parsley and grated parmesan. Serve with crusty bread and a side salad.

Invite a few characters from Twilight over for dinner if you wish to do world literature a favour.

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