Unlike most people, I don’t have very many fond memories of my mom’s cooking. It was the rare combination of ingredients that resulted in something I ever really enjoyed and when there was success it was usually something impossible to mess up, like boxed mac and cheese or a pot of rice and beans (something we ate constantly in my half Costa Rican household.)
But perhaps the most repugnant flavor combination my mom made my sister and I suffer through was actually not even a meal or something edible per se, but a home remedy for when we were sick: honey and garlic. She had the familiar honey bear ready to go, several whole raw garlic cloves sitting at the bottom, like insects trapped in amber, and the first complaint of a sore throat or a cough in the night would result in a goopy, sticky, horrible spoonful of the stuff.
The pungent spiciness of the garlic bled into the honey, tainted the sweetness and made a wholly new thing, a Frankenstein’s monster of syrup that was bitter and thick and vile to my young taste buds. The jarring clash of flavors coated my throat, maybe quelling a slight tickle but leaving behind a deep mistrust and dislike of honey that lasted into my 20s.
I was recently at Leuca, a Southern Italian inspired restaurant in Williamsburg, when during a family style meal, a plate of sheep’s milk ricotta was placed near me with a side of bread. I picked up the menu, wondering what the gold colored syrup pooled in the ricotta was, when I read the words: hot honey and garlic.
Well, I’ll be dammed. We meet again.
I have infinitely more faith in an Andrew Carmellini restaurant than anything from my mom’s kitchen, so I tried it, albeit somewhat cautiously. Briefly, there was that slight taste flashback, the familiar bite of garlic in the earthy, sweetness of honey, but there were other things too, flavors and textures, to keep me from dropping the piece of bread I was holding, the smear of honey-swirled ricotta thick on top. The bread itself, the vehicle here, was doughy and soft with a crunchy crust, and the ricotta, thick and creamy, took the edge off the garlic, taming it and balancing the flavors out. Even the honey’s slight heat actually lent itself to the garlic, unlike the cloying sweetness of that honey all those years ago.
Yea, this was different, I thought. This I could happily eat more of. This was not only delicious, but I’m pretty sure had the healing powers my mom was aiming for in her crude, pared down concoction, with none of the PTSD.
I had a cold back in December and have had a subtle, lingering cough and slight congestion in my sinuses ever since. So just to be on the safe side, I ate lots of pieces of bread that day, each one spread thick with ricotta and glistening with honey and garlic.
My mom would be happy to hear that I don’t think she was wrong about the medicinal benefits of the honey and garlic combo. Leuca just definitely went about a much better way of administering them.