How to Make Garlic and Oil Pasta
A chef friend of mine once described a good cook as "one who can make a great dish with only a few ingredients."
This dish is a great starter because it only has a few ingredients but they must be chosen and prepared carefully to make it work. When you sauté the garlic in the oil, make sure you get a good whiff, it's one of the greatest aromas in cooking and one you will never forget.
Pasta with Garlic and Oil also called Aglio Et Olio
Let's look at the ingredients more closely:
The best pasta for this recipe is either a dry factory-made spagetti or very thin spaghettini because it's ability to stand up and not be overpowered by the oil-based sauce. A fresh homemade, egg based pasta would be over powered and absorb too much of the sauce.
When cooking pasta :
- Figure about 4 ounces of dry pasta per person in other words a 1 pound package should yield 4 servings.
- Use plenty of water (at least 4 quarts per pound) so that it doesn't stick together.
- Add approx. 1 tablespoon of sea salt per pound of pasta. This will bring out the flavor of the pasta. When the water returns to a boil, add the pasta.
- Don't break the pasta to fit the pot, use a spoon (wooden) to bend it as it cooks.
- Stir the pasta often to prevent sticking.
- DON'T Over Cook the Pasta!
- One pound of spaghetti takes approx. 8 to 10 minutes to cook but check it frequently until it's "al dente" (firm to the bite).
- As soon as the pasta is done, drain it in a colander.
- Saucing - depending on the recipe, sometimes I plate the pasta and top it with sauce or I will combine the sauce and pasta in a bowl, mix well, and then serve. For this dish, I combine the two immediately.
- DON'T over sauce the pasta! Let the flavor of the pasta stand out.
- Adding cheese - if the recipe calls for grated cheese (this one doesn't), add some before tossing and have some extra at the table.
Used throughout the ages, the salt I prefer is sea salt. It comes from the process of evaporating seawater and is more expensive than mined salt but I think adds more depth and character to whatever you're cooking. Because we don't add any salt to this recipe, it's vital to add it to the water when we cook the pasta.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There is more to know about olive oil than I will ever learn in this lifetime. With so many types of olives and different growing areas, I hope to spend many enjoyable hours tasting and educating my palate.
This recipe calls for Extra Virgin which is cold pressed (no use of heat or chemicals allowed) comes from the first pressing, and has a maximum Oleic Acid (bitterness) content of 1%.
Virgin olive oil on the other hand comes from the 2nd or 3rd pressing with a maximum Oleic Acid content of 4%. Which oil you use depends on what you like and how deep are your pockets.
What can I say, I love it! I grew up on garlic powder like many of you may have. But when I started cooking with real garlic, I was hooked for life.
There are basically three types of garlic and which one you use will depend on taste and availability. The three are:
- American garlic, which is white skinned and has the strongest flavor.
- Italian garlic, which has mauve colored skin and is more mild flavored.
- Elephant garlic which is huge and has the mildest flavor of the three.
When choosing, look for firm heads with dry skins that feel heavy for their size. Stay away from any that are shriveled, brittle, turning yellow, or comes in a jar already cut up. For the record, after years of effort, I was finally able to persuade my folks to make the switch.
Although there are more than 30 varieties, there are two types of parsley that I'm familar with; flat-leafed Italian parsley and curly-leafed parsley. Is there a difference in flavor? I think so. I like to cook with flat-leafed parsley and use the curly leafed to decorate my plates. And in most recipes, fresh is better than dried.
Comes from black peppercorns that are picked slightly unripe and dried until they shrivel. The best black peppers are know to be the Tellicherry and Lampong and have a spicy hot but sweet flavor. Note once you grind a peppercorn, it will quickly loose its aroma.
Make It Even Better
Check out my post on making this dish even better - Pasta with Garlic & Oil Add Ons
My Q & A with Chef Ricco Deluca About This Recipe
Questions I had before making this recipe:
RG: Some cookbooks suggest 1 pound of pasta for 4 people. When you serve pasta in your restaurant, how much do you serve per individual?
Chef Ricco: When I say one pound pasta for 6 people, I hope you will give them more than just pasta, how about a salad and a vegetable or better yet how about two vegetables on the plate. In the restaurant, I get 5 to 6 orders out of a pound.
RG: Most cookbooks I’ve read say not to brown the garlic because it makes the sauce bitter. Why brown the garlic?
Chef Ricco: Yes, many think that browning garlic is the same as letting it burn. Not true. The browning of the garlic gives it the aroma of toasted nuts and a very caustic taste. That is the reason for keeping the garlic whole…for that toasted nut flavor.
RG: Why can’t you just mash the garlic with your fork in the pan? Why remove it first?
Chef Ricco: You take the garlic out of the pan because you don’t want to continue cooking….just release the oils. When I make this dish, I don’t remove it, but I’ve made the dish hundreds of times and you can’t work as fast as me yet.
RG: Can you substitute pepper flakes for the dry hot chili pepper?
Chef Ricco: Dry chili pepper and what you call pepper flakes are the same.
RG: If you don’t have fresh flat leaf parsley, can you use curly leaf parsley? What about dried parsley?
Chef Ricco: Flat leaf parsley which is also called Italian parsley is best but you can substitute curly leaf parsley although there’s not as much flavor as flat leaf. Don’t use dry parsley….there is no flavor.
RG: Why "no cheese please"?
Chef Ricco : There are a few pasta dishes Italians don’t put cheese on and this is one of them. You really want to taste garlic and olive oil. Besides my father would turn in his grave if I gave you this recipe and it included cheese.
Questions & Comments I had after making this recipe:
RG: Ricco, I made this last night and loved it. The flavors were so strong and prominent the house is still filled with the smell of cooked garlic this morning. My wife was not as thrilled as I was. She thought the flavor was a little too strong for her taste. To me, it was nothing but simple and intense flavor. I had three bowls of it. I thought 1 cup of oil was a little too much. There seemed to be a lot of oil left at the bottom of the pan after I tossed it well. Any ideas?
Chef Ricco: Here are a couple of tips. As you know, oil and water don’t mix. When you drain the pasta, keep it in the colander until it’s completely dry so when you put it in the oil, the pasta will absorb the oil like a sponge. You could also whip 2 egg whites to a froth and toss it in at the end. The egg whites will make the oil coagulate with the pasta. If you like less oil, try ¾ cup.
RG: When I put the garlic back I the pan, it started to cook very quickly. In fact it started to burn. Is this what should happen or was the oil too hot?
Chef Ricco: The browned garlic should still be at a raw state. All you are doing is infusing the oil with garlic oil. Because you can’t work as fast as I do, you may want to try turning down the heat a little.
RG: When I added the parsley, it crisped instantly. It sounded as though it was cracking. It seemed a little burnt.
Chef Ricco: I want the parsley to make that cracking sound, that’s the moisture coming out. You don’t want it to burn so again you might want to reduce the heat.
RG: Would you use this technique with other pasta dishes?
Chef Ricco: This technique works wonders with all oil base sauces, the only thing I would do differently is tone down the garlic if I’m adding additional ingredients. This is the way I usually prepare it in the restaurant. However, if I’m in the weeds, I may cheat by chopping the garlic to hurry up the cooking process. Not too often though.
RG: How can I tone down the strong garlic flavor so my wife can enjoy this simple and incredible recipe?
Chef Ricco: There are a few ways to tone it down. You can just use 3 cloves of garlic or brown all 4 cloves to infuse the oil and only mash and return 2 of them. You could then use the remaining 2 to your own dish.
RG: How long does it take the garlic to brown?
Chef Ricco: Depends on the temperature of the oil, but ideally you want the garlic in the hot oil for a least 3 to 4 minutes and the golden brown color of a walnut.
I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it as much as I do. Be careful when you add the parsley to the hot oil, it really splatters.
Pasta with Garlic and Oil Recipe
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil and garlic over medium heat in a heavy saucepan until the garlic begins to turn pale gold. (Please, take the time to smell the cooking garlic and oil)
- Remove the pan from the heat and add ¾ of the parsley, salt & pepper to taste.
- Drain the pasta and combine with the sauce in a separate bowl and toss until all the spaghetti is coated. (if I'm not entertaining, I will often use the same pot as I cooked the pasta in so I have one less pot to clean)
- Serve onto warmed plates and use the remaining parsley to garnish and serve immediately.