Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Pasta With Garlic and Oil)

If ever there was a pantry pasta, this is it. A humble Italian recipe, aglio e olio is primarily made with four easily accessible, shelf-staple ingredients: pasta, olive oil, garlic, and chiles. It’s just the dish to lean on when someone cries, “There’s no food in the house!”

That’s when you swoop in and make magic with this winning combination—one that is far more than the sum of its parts.

What are Aglio e Olio?

Aglio e olio translates literally to garlic and olive oil, the essential ingredients in the recipe. It’s a dish with apparent roots in Naples, Italy, but can be found on dinner plates all over the country. It’s uncommonly tasty and satisfying, thanks to the pronounced but well-balanced flavors of garlic and chiles.

Tips for Exceptional Aglio e Olio

Because the dish has so few ingredients, its success rests in the details. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated. You just need to keep a few things in mind to get it right.

  1. Salt the pasta water generously. That way, each strand of spaghetti will be flavorful even before you hit it with garlic and chiles. Plus, the pasta cooking water is an essential part of the sauce.
  2. Don’t brown the garlic. Watch the heat—you want the garlic to bloom with flavor without any browning, which can make it bitter.
  3. I took the spaghetti just a bit. You’ll finish the cooking process in the sauce, so be sure to drain the pasta when it’s just shy of al dente. It should have a pronounced bite to it without being crunchy.
  4. Use good olive oil. Skip oils labeled “light” or “pure.” The only thing light about these varieties is their flavor and nutritional value. Go for extra-virgin olive oil every time.
  5. Refresh your spice drawer. If the red chile flakes have been in your pantry for more than a year, they’ll likely lack flavor and heat. Pepper flakes aren’t very expensive as far as spices go and this is a good time to replace them.

Simple Recipe Variations

Consider this recipe a framework that you can build on depending on your mood. You can bump up (or down) the garlic or chiles, experiment with different types of pasta, or try any of the suggested riffs below:

  • Squeeze half a lemon over the spaghetti when you add the salt and Parmesan.
  • Add one (or a few) oil-packed anchovy filets to the olive oil when you add the garlic and chiles. Use the back of a fork to mash the tiny fish into a purée as it heats.
  • Add a few cans of chopped, drained clams when you add the pasta water.
  • Toss in a big handful of baby arugula while the spaghetti is still piping hot. Stir to wilt.
  • Pile your favorite sautéed shrimp on top of the spaghetti before you set it on the table.
  • Sauté small broccoli florets in olive oil and stir into the spaghetti.
  • Crumble cooked, chopped pancetta or bacon over the top along with the parsley.

How to Store and Reheat

This spaghetti will still be tasty a day or 2 after it’s made. Store in a covered container in the fridge. To reheat, lightly coat a skillet with olive oil and add the spaghetti and a tablespoon or 2 of water. Turn the spaghetti in the pan until warm. Taste and add more Parmesan as needed.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to pass at the table
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley (optional)

Method

  1. Cook the pasta:

    Fill a large, heavy pot with water and add enough salt that it tastes like the sea (2 tablespoons or so). Bring to a boil.

    Add the spaghetti and cook until just shy of al dente. You want it ever-so-slightly undercooked. Scoop 1 cup of pasta water out of the pot before draining the spaghetti into a colander.

    Spaghetti in a Pot of Hot Water for Aglio e Olio Recipe
     

  2. Make the sauce:

    Return the pot to the stove and set over medium heat. Add the olive oil and allow it to heat up enough that it sizzles gently when you add a sliver of garlic.

    Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté, stirring constantly, until the garlic turns slightly golden (but don’t let it brown), about 2 minutes.

    Olive Oil, Garlic, and Pepper Flakes Sizzling in a Pot for Spaghetti Aglio e Olio Recipe
     

  3. Toss the pasta:

    Add the reserved 1 cup of pasta cooking water to the pot and adjust the heat so that the liquid simmers. Add the pasta and cook, stirring regularly with tongs. You want the heat high enough that you hear the sizzle of the liquid.

    After a few minutes, when the pasta has absorbed nearly all of the liquid, remove the pot from heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the Parmesan and stir well. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

    Transfer to a serving bowl (or serve in the cooking pot) and scatter the parsley over the top, if using.

    Serve immediately with more Parmesan to pass at the table.

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    Tongs Stirring Spaghetti Aglio e Olio in Pot
     

    Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Pasta With Garlic and Oil) Topped with Herbs and Parmesan

FAQ

What is Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Pasta with Garlic and Oil)?

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is a classic Italian pasta dish known for its simplicity and bold flavors. The name translates to “spaghetti with garlic and oil” in English. It’s a quick and easy dish made with just a few ingredients: spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. Despite its simplicity, it’s incredibly flavorful and satisfying.

What ingredients are needed to make Spaghetti Aglio e Olio?

To make Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, you’ll need spaghetti pasta, garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes (for a bit of heat), fresh parsley, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and black pepper. Some variations may include additional ingredients like anchovies, capers, or cherry tomatoes, but the basic recipe sticks to the essentials.

How do I make Spaghetti Aglio e Olio?

Start by cooking the spaghetti pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add thinly sliced garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet, and cook until the garlic is golden and fragrant, being careful not to let it burn. Once the pasta is cooked, transfer it directly from the pot to the skillet using tongs, allowing some of the pasta water to come along with it. Toss the pasta in the garlic-infused oil until well coated, adding more pasta water as needed to create a silky sauce. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Remove from heat, sprinkle with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, and toss once more to combine. Serve immediately, garnished with additional Parmesan cheese and parsley if desired.

Can I customize Spaghetti Aglio e Olio to suit my preferences?

Yes, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is a versatile dish that can be customized in various ways. You can add additional ingredients such as sautéed shrimp, chopped clams, or grilled chicken for added protein. You can also incorporate vegetables like cherry tomatoes, spinach, or broccoli for extra flavor and nutrients. Adjust the amount of garlic, red pepper flakes, and Parmesan cheese according to your taste preferences.

Is Spaghetti Aglio e Olio suitable for vegetarians and vegans?

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the Parmesan cheese or using a vegetarian-friendly alternative. It’s naturally vegan if you skip the cheese or use a dairy-free substitute. Just be sure to check the ingredients of your pasta, as some brands may contain eggs. It’s a simple and delicious option for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

 

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