One of the basic standard pasta dishes in Italy is “olio aglio” which means “oil garlic” and is simply the combination of spaghetti or linguine with a sauce of garlic sautéed gently in warmed olive oil. Often, some red peppers or red pepper flakes are added to the sauce and you have “olio aglio peperoncino” or “oil garlic red pepper”.
I asked Marco to share his thoughts on this simple pasta, asking him, without taking time to think about it, to say the first things that came to mind. His first word was “garlic”. He said, the flavor of the garlic is what he enjoys about eating this comfort food. Then, he imagined the feeling of the oil in his mouth, just the right amount of olive oil flavor and silky texture without swimming in it or conversely being too dry.
This prompted a little philosophy about the art of Italian cooking. Marco shared how this simple dish illustrates many of the basic principles used and how the skillful application of them can mean the difference between a bad meal and an enjoyable plate of pasta. For instance, take the boiling of the spaghetti. Remember the time I posted about the salting of the water (click here)? If the water isn’t salted correctly, the pasta is less able to take on the flavors of any sauce that you might make.
Just as the French might test a chef through the making of an omelet, the Italian know a good cook through the skillful preparation of this simple pasta!
In addition to remembering to generously salt the water with coarse sea salt crystals, the heat is kept on low so that the garlic and red peppers get warmed up but not burned. Do this while the pasta is boiling.The other trick is to save some of the starchy water left over from the boil to add a couple of tablespoons up to a 1/4 cup based one how much pasta you’re making. This water gets stirred in with the sauce and spaghetti to ensure a creamy texture. So, if it’s a little dry, add a little more but not so much that the sauce is watery. In this case, simply have the heat turned up a bit so the water can boil off while vigorously mixing.
In addition to being one of the comfort foods from Marco’s childhood, he also remembers olio aglio e peperoncino as the late night snack meal after a bunch of friends have been out late and they get the midnight snack munchies. Every Italian kitchen has some spaghetti and olive oil and garlic and red pepper flakes on hand. It’s quick work, easy to make for a group snack, and as Marco said, “non un pugno nello stomaco“, “not a punch in the stomach”! It’s a light dish that won’t sit heavy in the stomach through the sleeping hours.Ingredients (4 people):
- 70-100 grams of pasta per person
- EVOO, coating the bottom of the pan
- 3-4 cloves of garlic sliced thinly
- 2 red peppers, ends cut off, sliced once the long way and then sliced into thin pieces (you can play around with quantity here, but an Italian will want to be sure and taste the garlic even while enjoying a little of the heat in the peppers)
- salt and boil the pasta till al dente
- on low heat, sauté the garlic and red pepper
- add the pasta, turning up the heat to high
- add small quantities of the starchy water, stirring vigorously until the desired consistency
- parsley could also be added at the end
- some also enjoy a sprinkle of grated parmesan