Of all the pasta dishes one might make, spaghetti aglio e olio (spaghetti with garlic & oil) is, by far, the easiest to prepare. Ready in minutes, at its most basic, there are but 3 ingredients to this dish: pasta, garlic, and olive oil. That’s it. Now, understandably, there are many variations to the dish, the most common involve adding grated cheese (romano or parmesan) and/or chopped red pepperoncini or pepper flakes. I am firmly planted on the side of those who love their pasta aglio e olio served with a few red pepper flakes and a good dusting of grated cheese. Still, even after adding these 2 ingredients, you can see that this is a most uncomplicated dish.
As a young adult still living at the old two-flat, I’d come home after a night out with the boys and, while they were in a drive-thru waiting for their sack o’ sliders, I was already fixing myself a plate of aglio e olio. One of those nights, as I was eating, Zia’s husband, “Uncle,” came down the back stairs to see what I was cooking. After a brief chat, he went back upstairs. A week or two later, the same thing happened but, this time, he mentioned how quickly I had prepared the dish. Realizing the implication, I was ready for him the next time. A couple of weeks later, after a night spent carousing with friends, I set about to make my late night dinner, only this time I slowed things down a bit. Sure enough, Uncle appeared but this time I was just about to add the pasta to the boiling water (butta giù in our house’s parlance). I added enough spaghetti for two and within minutes we were enjoying a late night snack together. We “dined together” several times after that and I always knew that if he didn’t appear by the time I was ready to butta giù, I would be dining alone. To this day, I cannot have a dish of pasta aglio e olio without thinking of those late night dinners together.
Throughout the years, this simple dish has continued to serve me well. After a 10 hour day at the office, I would arrive home and prepare a plate of aglio e olio within minutes. On those days/nights that I tended bar, a dish of this pasta officially marked the end of my day. Even now, if I don’t feel like cooking, I can whip up a batch of spaghetti aglio e olio in a fraction of the time it would take to have a dinner delivered. And I still find it every bit as satisfying as I did those many years ago, although, admittedly, Max is hardly the conversationalist that Uncle was.
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Spaghetti Aglio e Olio Recipe
- 1 lb spaghetti (cappellini, spaghettini, linguine, or trenette may be used)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 – 6 cloves of garlic, diced
- 1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes or 1 red peperoncino, diced (optional)
- 1/2 cup grated cheese, separated – romano or parmesan may be used (optional)
- reserved pasta water
- chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
- grated cheese for serving (optional)
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- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add the spaghetti and stir.
- Check the spaghetti package’s cooking instructions. About 3 minutes before the spaghetti is supposed to be cooked al dente, begin heating the oil in a deep frying pan. Add the pepper flakes (or peperoncino) & garlic and sauté until the edges of the garlic just begin to turn brown, no more than 2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown completely or, worse yet, to burn. Your pasta should be ready about now.
- Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, strain the pasta, add it to the frying pan, and stir to combine and to coat the pasta.
- Add a few ounces of the reserved pasta water to the pan with the pasta, more as needed. Allow the pasta to finish cooking, to your liking.
- Before serving, take the pan off of the heat, add all but 2 tbsp of the cheese, and mix until well coated. Garnish with parsley & the remaining cheese. Serve immediately.
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Since the recipe just presented already modified the original dish to include grated cheese and red pepper flakes, why stop there? About a year ago, I realized that I hadn’t any cheese — Gasp! — after I had already added my pasta to the pot of boiling water. Remembering what I’d seen on a number of cooking shows, I quickly tossed some bread crumbs into a frying pan, added the parsley that was to have been a garnish, and toasted the combination. When my pasta was ready to be served, I topped it off with the toasted bread crumbs — and I’ve done it many times since, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without. As it turns out, using bread crumbs in place of cheese is a Sicilian custom, as Ambrosiana recently verified. (Speaking of Ambrosiana, be sure to check out her blog, Tales of Ambrosia. Not only will you find great recipes & dishes, beautifully photographed, but you’ll be treated to scenes of an Italy that the tour books have yet to discover.)
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