ITALIAN CLASSIC: Pasta con Aglio e Olio

Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil

By Peter Francis Battaglia

Here is my argument to all those people — take a good look at yourselves, you know who you are — who think they need to spend hours in the kitchen for a decent home-cooked meal.  You couldn’t be further from the truth.

Don’t be scared. Go for take-out or fast food when you feel like it; but really, you could make something on the fly and be shocked at how easy it is.

Pasta comes in all its shapes, sizes, varieties and is probably my most favorite food to cook and eat.  My grandfather, Innocenzo Scaramuzzi, who I take after in many ways, probably ate it everyday. Innocenzo, a New York city Italian immigrant from Grassano, Provincia di Matera, Basilicata, Italy (now that’s a mouthful), was a genius in the kitchen.  I would watch him and my grandmother cook for hours.  Couldn’t get enough of it.  And, everything they cooked was awesome, except maybe some of the more hard core old world dishes which included items that would make a voracious carnivore go ultra vegan.

This brings me to one of the simplest of all Italian dishes ever: pasta with garlic and oil, or Pasta con Aglio e Olio. Basically, it’s pasta, cooked al dente, drained and then sauteed in a big pan with three cloves of sliced garlic and good (I mean good) olive oil. Season with hot pepper flakes or black pepper (never both) and some salt.  After several trips to Italy I learned a pasta-serving style I prefer and I’m going to pass it on. Pasta should never be swimming in a sauce, especially one that’s oil-based.  How many times have you had pasta with garlic and oil and the macaroni hydroplanes on the plate because there is too much oil?

The pasta should have a nice coating of oil, but not an inch of oil in the dish.  In fact, in Italy from Venice to Palermo the oil based sauces almost appeared dry; but they were not and they were full of flavor.  For one-half pound of cooked angel hair use less than 1/8  an inch of olive oil in the bottom of the pan.  Heat the oil and add the garlic.  Don’t let it get to that brown stage. If it does you’ve gone too far. About one minute in the sizzling pan will allow the garlic to release its heady perfume into the oil.

Add the drained pasta, carefully and incorporate the oil and pasta. Add salt and pepper and then taste it. If it’s too dry for your liking add a little of the pasta water (I said “a little).

Sprinkle some grated parmigiano or pecorino, up to you, and you are done.  Not rocket science or a 12-hour ordeal.  Serve with a green vegetable or salad.  Garnish the pasta with chopped parsley — or not, again, not a deal breaker here.

Tonight I opened a can of no salt organic green beans, and drained it. I sauteed one minced shallot, then added that to the beans. A little kosher salt, one teaspoon of fig balsamic and I let that cook for five minutes. Then I drizzled extra virgin olive oil, infused with Meyer lemon (a Christmas gift). Gave it a quick stir and added a little fresh orange juice. Dash of black pepper and it as done.
The bright sour sweet and citrus flavors combined with the other ingredients perked up that dreary can of green beans, and brought a little sunshine into our kitchen on a dark, cold night.  It played off nicely with the Agli’Ugli (southern Italian dialect, I’m channeling the grandparents again).

So bundle up, it’s a cold one here at the Jersey Shore (no Snooki or The Situation in sight) and stop whining that you can’t cook a quick meal during the week.  It’s good for you.

And by the way, you can add capers, anchovies, small shrimp, cherry tomatoes — whatever you love — into the oil and garlic.

Read more of Peter’s work at: www.blog.afoodobsession.com/2009/12/29/italian-classic.aspx.