How to Make Pasta with Garlic and Oil
A chef friend 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 most incredible 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 of its ability to stand up and not be overpowered by the oil-based sauce. A fresh homemade, egg-based pasta would be overpowered 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 four servings.
- Use plenty of water (at least 4 quarts per pound) so 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 evaporating seawater and is more expensive than mined salt, but it adds more depth and character to your 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 your pockets are.
What can I say? I love it! I grew up on garlic powder, as many of you may have. But I was hooked for life when I started cooking with real garlic. There are three types of garlic; which one you use will depend on taste and availability. The three are:
- American garlic, which is white-skinned and has the most robust flavor.
- Italian garlic, which has mauve-colored skin and more mild flavor.
- Elephant garlic is huge and has the mildest flavor of the three.
When choosing, look for firm heads with dry skin that feel heavy for their size. Avoid shriveled, brittle, turning yellow, or coming in a jar already cut up. For the record, after years of effort, I finally persuaded my folks to make the switch.
Although there are more than 30 varieties, I'm familiar with two types of parsley: flat-leafed Italian and curly-leafed. 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.
It comes from black peppercorns that are picked slightly unripe and dried until they shrivel. The best black peppers are known to be the Tellicherry and Lampong and have a spicy hot, but sweet flavor. Note once you grind a peppercorn, it will quickly lose 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 four people. When you serve pasta in your restaurant, how much do you serve per individual?
Chef Ricco: When I say one pound of pasta for six 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? I get 5 to 6 orders out of a pound in the restaurant.
RG: Most cookbooks I’ve read say not to brown the garlic because it makes the sauce bitter. Why brown the garlic?
Chef Ricco: Many think browning garlic is the same as letting it burn. Not true. The garlic browning gives it the aroma of toasted nuts and a tart taste. That is why the garlic is kept whole…for that toasted nut flavor.
RG: Why can’t you mash the garlic with your fork in the pan? Why remove it first?
Chef Ricco: Take the garlic out of the pan because you don’t want to continue cooking…. 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, 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 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 intense and prominent that the house was 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 straightforward and intense flavor. I had three bowls of it. I thought 1 cup of oil was a little too much. A lot of oil was 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 two egg whites to a froth and toss them 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 in the pan, it quickly started to cook. It started to burn. Is this what should happen, or was the oil too hot?
Chef Ricco: The browned garlic should still be in 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 you might want to reduce the heat again.
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 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 use three cloves of garlic or brown all four cloves to infuse the oil and only mash and return 2 of them. You could then use the remaining 2 for your 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 adding the parsley to the hot oil; it splatters. Enjoy. RG
Pasta with Garlic and Oil Recipe
- 1 pound pasta
- salt and pepper freshly ground pepper, to taste
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic peeled & chopped
- ½ cup fresh parsley chopped
- hot pepper flakes to taste, optional
- 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.
Making Pasta with Garlic & Oil Super - From Simple to Special
Once you know how to make pasta with garlic and olive oil, you can dramatically change the dish's flavor by adding any combination of ingredients. It might sound like a stretch to say that this basic recipe is the key to making a wide variety of dishes, but it is. Once you realize that pasta with garlic and olive oil recipe isn't so much a recipe as a series of cooking techniques, you can open the door to culinary creativity. The techniques I'm talking about are, at their heart:
- Cooking pasta
- Heating oil in a pan
- Combining pasta and sauce
When broken down in that way, it becomes clear by choosing your pasta and how you flavor your oil; you can personalize this dish in any number of ways. Think of it this way. The pasta, garlic, and oil are a framework upon which you can build all sorts of flavors—getting a headache yet? Bear with me.
Check Your Spice Cabinet For Ideas
Look in your spice cabinet right now. See all those spices you have there? Heat any of them along with the oil to give a different flavor to the finished pasta. Adding red pepper flake will bring excellent heat to your dish. Aside from red pepper flakes, consider adding some lemon pepper, Cajun Seasoning, Old Bay--almost any pre-packaged spice blend, or your favorite blend of spices, that you like.
Add Some Aromatics
And there is no need to stop there. Along with (or instead of) the garlic, you can also mince up other aromatics to add to the oil: onions, shallots, leeks, celery, carrots, ginger--any of these would work nicely. And how good would some oil-packed sundried tomatoes be? Good.
Bring In Some Herbs
Herb-wise, the sky is the limit. Fresh herbs are always more vibrant than dried, although dried tend to have a more intense flavor. Also, dried herbs, such as Italian seasoning or Herbes de Provence, often blend. Buying an herb blend is often more convenient and cost-effective if you'd like to use a blend of herbs and don't have your own herb garden.
Otherwise, I generally prefer to use fresh herbs. If you use dried herbs, hold some in your palm before adding them to the dish and crush them with your thumb. This helps to release more of the essential oils and ups the flavor.
How About Some Nuts
To add some crunch to your dish, you might add some dried nuts. Pinenuts, crushed peanuts, walnuts, almonds--almost any nut you can think of will bring subtle differences in flavor. They will also add some protein and up the nutritional profile of your pasta.
Okay, even my head is starting to hurt a little bit. Take a look at the following chart. To create your own take on pasta with garlic and olive oil recipe, just choose one or two complementary ingredients from each column, and you're good to go.
|chow mein noodles
|dried herb blends
|dice ham (cooked)
|chicken, pork, beef
|flat leaf parsley
Of course, this chart is just a starting point. You, indeed, are limited only by your imagination. Let me know what you come up with.
Some of My Favorite Pasta Recipes