Pasta with Garlic and Oil

Pasta Aglio e Olio

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 30 minutes

One of my all-time favorites, the quintessential late-night Roman dish, great as a snack or even a centerpiece when you want something simple. Needless to say, good extra virgin olive oil is key. So is not overcooking the garlic.

Salt

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 or 2 dried chiles, or to taste (optional)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed

1 pound long, thin pasta, like linguine or spaghetti, or any other pasta

1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put the garlic, chiles, oil, and a pinch of salt in a small skillet or saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low. Let the garlic sizzle a bit, shaking the pan occasionally, just until it puffs and turns golden, then turn off the heat if the pasta isn’t ready.

Cook the pasta until tender but not mushy. Drain it, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Reheat the garlic and oil mixture briefly if necessary. Dress the pasta with the sauce, adding a little more oil or some of the cooking water if it seems dry; toss with the parsley if you’re using it.

Variations

Pasta with Fresh Herbs. A must-learn recipe if you have an herb garden; you’ll use it all summer: When the garlic is done, toss in a mixture of 1 cup or more fresh herbs, whatever you have on hand; try, for example, 1/4 cup minced parsley leaves, 1/4 cup minced basil or chervil leaves, 1 sprig tarragon, minced, several sprigs of dill, minced, a sprig or two of thyme, leaves stripped from the stem and minced, and 1 tablespoon or more of minced chives (this is merely a suggestion; substitute freely). The mixture will absorb all the oil, so, in Step 2, when you toss it with the pasta, be sure to add more oil or some of the pasta cooking water. Garnish with more chopped herbs.

Pasta with Bread Crumbs. Crunchy and satisfying: Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add 1/2 cup fresh or dried bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the chiles, garlic, and a large pinch of salt. Proceed with the recipe from Step 1, using the crunchy bread crumbs as a garnish and stirring in at the last moment.

Pasta with Chickpeas. Good with cut pasta, like ziti, penne, or shells: While you’re cooking the pasta, toss about 1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned are fine), with the garlic oil mixture and warm gently.

Pasta with Ground Nuts. Use walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans: Chop about 1/2 cup of nuts in a food processor or by hand. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to toast and become fragrant, just a minute or two. Then turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the chiles, garlic, and a large pinch of salt. Proceed with the recipe from Step 1.

Pasta with Toasted Seeds. Try sunflower, sesame, poppy, or pumpkin: Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add about 1/4 cup of seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to toast and become fragrant, just a minute or two. Then turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the chiles, garlic, and a large pinch of salt. Proceed with the recipe from Step 1.