Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

This quintessential Neapolitan dish is simple and speedy, but deliciously fresh and full of flavour.

Preparation Time: 5 minutesCooking Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: ModerateServes: 4

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 100ml/1dl/1/5 of a pint/just under half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 400g/14oz/large handful of spaghetti
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley (optional)
  • Pinch of finely grated parmesan, or even better, pecorino romano (optional)

Make it vegan: you can substitute parmesan with a homemade vegan substitute like this one, which tastes just as good as the real thing!

Special equipment

  • A saucepan
  • A frying pan
  • A spaghetti spoon

Instructions

  1. Peel the garlic and chop it finely. Cut the chilli into thick chunks, and if you aren’t a fan of spice, remove the seeds.
  2. Meanwhile bring a saucepan of water to the boil and cook the spaghetti, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes- or until it is al dente. Then remove it from the heat and drain, but reserve the cooking water.
  3. While the spaghetti is cooking, pour the oil into a frying pan and set it over a low-medium heat. Add the garlic, chilli, salt and pepper and saute them gently for two or three minutes, or until the garlic is very light brown and fragrant. This will bring out the garlicky flavour, but keep a close eye on the pan and stir it regularly- if the garlic becomes too brown it will begin to taste bitter and burnt.
  4. When the garlic and spaghetti are both ready, pour the spaghetti and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water into the garlic and oil. Use the spaghetti spoon to stir everything together, so that the oil, garlic and chilli are incorporated into the spaghetti. 
  5. If desired, sprinkle some chopped parsley and finely grated hard Italian cheese over the spaghetti.
  6. Buon appetito! 

Tips

  • Keep an eye on the garlic while it’s cooking. Only saute it for a couple of minutes at a moderate temperature, and stir it regularly while you do so. Once it starts to go the lightest shade of brown, remove the pan from the heat. If it’s cooked even for a few seconds too long, or cooked at too high a temperature, it will taste bitter and burnt.
  • Serve with a dry white wine or an Italian red
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Background

Home: Naples, Campania, Italy

Pronounciation: /spəˈɡeti ˈaʎʎo e ˈɔːljo/ (spaghetti ahleoh ey ohlyeoh) (Aglio is pretty hard to pronounce for non-Italians)

Relatives: Linguine Vongole (Naples), Vermicelli alla Borbonica (Italy), Pasta c’Anciova (Sicily)

History

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is Neapolitan in origin (although it is also sometimes attributed to the eastern Abruzzo region.) Because Aglio e Olio originated as cucina rustica (peasant food), its origins are pretty murky. It was probably eaten by Campanian farmers who couldn’t quite afford to make the local specialty, Linguine Vongole. Forgoing clams and white wine, they flavoured their pasta with just olive oil. This was locally produced on Campania’s olive groves, and thus was readily available and cheap. Later, Campanians began to add garlic and red chillis to the recipe.

The first cookbook to feature a recipe for Aglio e Olio was Ippolito Cavalcanti’s 1837 book, Cucina Teorico Pratica, a compendium of Neapolitan and French dishes. Cavalcanti’s recipe called for long pasta, accompanied by garlic fried in the highest quality oil available. He titled the dish Uermiculi Aglio e Uoglie, as he used vermicelli in lieu of spaghetti. In her 1965 cookbook La Cucina Napoletana, Jeanne Caròla Francesconi suggested the use of linguine instead.

Today, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is popular throughout Italy, particularly in the south. It’s often rustled up as a quick lunch or late night meal.

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