Some years back I had occasion to spend a morning with the head chef of a major airline caterer. This was in Dallas, if memory serves.
We toured a hangar-sized kitchen, inspected meals being prepared, rode around in a golf cart observing food deliveries to various aircraft; just your average shift for a guy responsible to feed tens of thousands of (largely dissatisfied) customers every day.
I do not recall much of our conversation, but will never in my life forget that poor man's face when I joked about a particularly heinous dish we happened to be tasting.
"You have heard of garlic," I said forcing down a limp, pale (egg?) noodle in a sauce that only an airline or a Third World penal facility could fathom. "Right, chef?"
I smiled broadly, to reinforce the innocent nature of my jest.
The chef did not smile. Not at all.
"No, no, garlic is not good," he cried loudly and in a stern Eastern European manner that could chill a peperoncino. "Cauliflower also is not good. To me the two are the same. Exactly the same. No difference whatsoever. Not to me."
Just then a younger man in his employ approached and the two chefs stepped away, possibly to plan their escape from the half-witted visitor who was unaware that garlic and cauliflower grew from the same seed.
I sweated over this, strategized as to how I might undo the offense, but when Chef returned moments later he had, mercifully, recovered from his agitated state.
"Where were we... oh yes, the garlic," he began. "It smells. Many people do not care for its odor. Same is true with cauliflower."
He smiled in a way that suggested we were pals once more.
"Remember that my dining room is a pressurized cabin into which the huddled masses march," he went on, pointing to the dozen or so aircraft in our sight.
"The food must be for everyone, you see. And so, it is for noone."
A European philosopher trapped inside an airport kitchen in Texas.
I thought about Chef the other evening. I was explaining to a friend (let's just call her Afflicted Person 1, shall we) my method of calculating the amount of garlic that I use when working from a recipe that is not my own. It's a formula actually, though I'll admit it isn't scientific. It's pretty hard to describe, too, now that I think about it, let alone follow.
Hell, it isn't a formula at all, okay. All I do is double, triple or quadruple the garlic, depending on the recipe and what I determine to be its author's culinary sensibility. I've probably used more garlic than that even — further proof, if you needed any, that my whole formula idea is just a load of crap.
I like the stuff, okay. And feel sympathy for people who either don't like it, or (I can barely say it) choose not to make very much use of it. (That means you, AP1.)
Perhaps more than any single food item, garlic gives me the most joy. Counting the heads that have passed through my hands would be like trying to determine how many meatballs I've eaten. Don't waste your time. I already have tried, and it nearly drove me to madness.
But the main reason old Chef blew into my brain that night was the dish I was preparing. He would not have approved of the recipe. Not in his mile-high dining room, he wouldn't have. Just no possible way.
I present to you the spaghetti nero di seppia con aglio e cavolfiore (squid ink spaghetti with both garlic AND cauliflower).
I'm guessing the huddled masses won't be marching through my dining room anytime soon.
Spaghetti with garlic and cauliflower
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8-10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 small hot pepper, chopped fine
4 anchovy fillets (Chef would not approve of this either)
1 small cauliflower
1/2 lb. pasta (I used the squid ink but any kind will do)
Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
In a pot suitable to boil the pasta, cook the cauliflower in well-salted water until done to your liking. Remove the cauliflower but keep the water boiling; start cooking the pasta in the same water.
In a pan large enough to accommodate the cauliflower and pasta, saute the garlic, pepper and anchovies in the oil for a couple minutes, then add the cauliflower and incorporate.
When the pasta is a minute away from being done add it to the pan on high heat (but be sure not to toss away all the pasta water).
Add a ladle or two of the water to the pan, depending on how moist you like your pasta, and quickly mix everything together.
Plate and top with grated cheese to taste.