Pasta aglio e olio: when less is more
Pasta aglio e olio is one of my favorite recipes to make whenever we are hungry for pasta but short on time. While believed to have originated in Naples, Italy, various versions of pasta aglio e
Pasta aglio e olio is one of my favorite recipes to make whenever we are hungry for pasta but short on time. While believed to have originated in Naples, Italy, various versions of pasta aglio e olio can be found in every region of Italy, and its natural simplicity makes it a great base recipe for any home cook's repertoire.
Pasta aglio e olio (pronounced ahl-yo ay ohl-yo) may sound fancy, but when translated from Italian it simply means pasta with garlic and oil. This dish is the ultimate, grown-up version of buttered noodles, a classic childhood favorite. It is quick to prepare and can be easily modified to suit one's taste.
We use spaghetti or linguine noodles, as long noodles work best for this dish. In addition to garlic and olive oil, our version also incorporates crushed red pepper flakes, fresh parsley and a good Italian hard cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, freshly grated.
To make this simple dish, keep in mind these tips to ensure success. The first, and arguably most important, is not to overcook the garlic. A healthy amount of garlic gives this dish its signature punch of flavor, and we prefer to cut the garlic into thin slices instead of mincing, which allows the garlic to soften and mellow as it cooks.
The garlic should be gently cooked in a good amount of olive oil until the edges just begin to color, but not brown. Olive oil is a main flavor component, so extra-virgin is a must for this dish.
Next, be sure to reserve at least 2 cups of the water from the cooked pasta before draining to create the sauce. The reserved pasta water is the key to this dish, because the starch helps thicken the sauce; the extra moisture will soften the sliced garlic as it simmers, so it almost melts into the pasta. For even more flavor, a quarter-cup of dry white wine, like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, can be added at the same time as the pasta water.
This dish is perfect as a light supper, side dish, or starter course, and can be enhanced with additional ingredients to make it a heartier meal on its own. Add a protein like pancetta, bacon, or shrimp, which can be cooked first in the same pan as the sauce for even more flavor.
For Lenten Fridays, add a vegetable like broccoli, beans, spinach or asparagus, or toss the pasta with some roasted tomatoes. For texture, add some lightly toasted breadcrumbs or pine nuts just before serving.
Pasta aglio e olio is easy to make and surprisingly delicious for such a simple dish. It also makes for excellent leftovers, even when served cold with a drizzle of olive oil. Extra virgin, of course. Buon appetito.
Pasta Aglio e Olio
Serves: 2 to 4
1 lb. spaghetti or linguine noodles
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, for medium heat (optional)
2 cups reserved pasta water
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 cup pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus more as desired
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add 2 tablespoons of salt and the pasta; cook according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water for the sauce.
As the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook just until the garlic starts to color slightly around the edges, but not brown, about 1 ½ to 2 minutes, max.
Add 1½ cups of the reserved pasta water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat all noodles. Lightly cook until the pasta is heated through, stirring or tossing frequently, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add the chopped parsley and 1 cup of freshly grated cheese; toss to combine. Allow the pasta to rest for 3 to 5 minutes before serving. Serve with freshly grated cheese on the side.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.