Otherwise known as Aglio, olio e peperoncino (the “gli” in “aglio” is pronounced something like the “lli” in “million”) this is certainly one the simplest of all pasta recipes. This makes it perfect for those times when you need to get something quick together – an attack of the munchies, your in-laws dropping round unannounced, your other half’s gone away for the weekend and you can’t face another Chinese take-away… that sort of thing.
The name simply means “Garlic, oil and chili”, and is nothing more than a list of the only 3 ingredients apart from the spaghetti. Italian cuisine is strongly regional – each region in Italy has its own traditions and specialities – and this simple dish is claimed by several of them, so you may find variants around. This is the Roman version. Others like to add chopped parsley at the end, to counter the horrors of the garlic. While this may be appreciated by your friends, family and colleagues, in my opinion it completely changes the character of the dish.
Then there are some who swear that you need to complete the dish with grated cheese (something like parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano). Again, I firmly believe that this ruins the simplicity of the dish. So just do what you’re told below and all will be well, I promise.
Despite its apparent lack of anything substantial, this is an extremely healthy, nutritious dish. Extra virgin olive oil is, unless heated to boiling point for extended periods, is an anti-oxidant and can lower blood sugar levels. Chilis are high in vitamins (B and C) and potassium and can even cure a headache. And garlic could practically replace the national health services of every country in the world, for all the wonderful properties it has (take a look at the garlic entry on Wikipedia if you don’t believe me).
Finally a word about the chili. Chilis come in all shapes and sizes and of varying strength. They are sold in various forms: fresh or dried, crushed or as a powder. Italian cuisine uses dried chilis only and in central Italy uses a variety that rarely exceeds and inch or so in length. They are not usually mouth-burningly hot, so if you’re using a different type of chili, try to adapt: for example, if you’re using a long, blast-your-trousers-off Indian or Thai-style chili, you’d only need about a quarter of it to reach the equivalent of an Italian chili. Experiment, that’s my advice.
Oh by the way, despite the name (see above in big letters), you can quite happily use other long forms of pasta, in particular linguine, but also vermicelli and capellini.
1 clove of garlic, peeled, topped and tailed
1 or 2 small dried chilis
Extra virgin olive oil
Fill a large pot (for spaghetti it is best to use a tall one rather than a wide one, but anything will do basically) with water and bring it to the boil (covered – it’s quicker and you save energy). When the water is boiling, bung in a large handful of coarse sea salt (the one with “fuck off” written on the pack), preferably iodized as it’s good for reducing the risk of mental retardation (it’s true!). Having picked your spaghetti from the tree, then throw it into the boiling water with a sort of Italian flourish (hold the “roll” of spaghetti at the top, lower it into the pot and then flick it loose with your wrists moving in an anti-clockwise direction; the result should be that the spaghetti is fanned out in the pot – one day I’ll get round to uploading a video of this operation). If the flourish is a non-option, just put the bloody spaghetti into the pot any old way. Once it’s in, start gently pushing it into the water. Then look at the time and calculate when you need to take it out (see article on pasta).
With the spaghetti cooking (and don’t forget to stir it every now and then!), you now have about 7-8 minutes to do the rest, so kick the cat out of the way and roll up your sleeves.
Take a frying pan, preferably one with a beefy bottom (let’s call it your “J-Lo Pan”), and add plenty of oil. Using an oil bottle with that plastic doo-dah they put in the neck to stop you from pouring our the entire bottle in one second, I usually start pouring and counting and stop when I reach 4. Alternatively about 6 tablespoons should be enough. Just remember you need this oil to coat all your spaghetti (Aha! You forgot to stir it again, didn’t you?).
Turn on the heat, throw in your clove of garlic (garlic-lovers can gently crush it or cut it into two first) and crumble in your dried chili. Now this is the tricky part: do not let this mixture burn. Keep thinking of it as J-Lo’s Bum – it needs warming, not setting fire to. The garlic and chili should only heat through gently (but not too gently, remember it needs to be ready in about 4 minutes by this stage, and stir that spaghetti!!). Give it a stir or swirl every now and then, and it’s ready when the garlic just starts to go brown.
When your spaghetti’s done, drain it (you did remember to have your colander ready, didn’t you?) and bung it into J-Lo, on top of the dressing. Turn off the heat and give it a good stir, ensuring you coat all the spaghetti. The dole it out onto your dishes and tuck in!
If you’re looking for something alcoholic to go with this, I can suggest nothing better than a crisp white from the Roman hills, something like Frascati or Marino, or something from the Umbria or Abruzzo regions with lots of trebbiano bianco in it.