Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
Holy Week, Garlic Breath
We don’t eat meat during holy week in our house (or at least if we do, we do it in secret where mamma can’t see us). Yesterday, Giuseppe made the mistake of scarfing down a piece of salami and we are all paying the piper now. We are also technically not supposed to work during holy week, but with a house under construction, we have no choice but to bend the rules a little bit. It is entirely possible our names are written on naughty list somewhere.
So with hungry mouths to feed and penance to pay, we eat the classic spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) every afternoon the week before Easter. Thusly we all smell like garlic, which either leads to further spiritual contemplation or the unfortunate development of a Pavlovian response to a treasured household ingredient.
Mamma is convinced I am incapable of preparing a proper spaghetti aglio e olio. She is largely right. This dish is so supremely simple that it is quite easy to muck it up. With only five ingredients that are all pantry staples, the trick to this spaghetti is perfecting its technique. Most importantly, do not burn the garlic!
How does mamma prevent garlic burn? She cooks the garlic in rendered pig fat called ‘sugna.’ It is basically lard. The pig fat has a higher smoke point than the olive oil so the garlic cooks more evenly. Mamma also says that some Italian television doctor insists that cooking with olive oil too much causes cancer. (perhaps because certain people allow the olive oil to reach smoking point?) I am not even going to pontificate on that matter. I will just say, the use of pig fat is very specific to our mountain town of Agerola. You can omit the pig fat and exclusively use olive oil if you prefer. We drizzle olive oil over the finished pasta. It is divine.
Read the recipe over a few times and learn it by heart. Once you have perfected its technique, you can rest assured that a fulfilling, emergency dinner is only minutes away. These are all ingredients (with the possible exception of pig fat) that you will always have in your cupboard. Enjoy the garlic breath and happy holy week.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil)
Serves 4 as a primo
- 1/2 lb spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon pig fat (or olive oil)
- 3 medium cloves of garlic minced (Be sure to remove the bitter green stem that runs through the center of the garlic before mincing.)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- I tablespoon fresh minced parsley (optional)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a fierce boil.
- Add garlic and pig fat (or olive oil) to a large sauté pan.
- Gently heat the garlic and fat over medium-low heat until the garlic is fragrant but not in the least singed. (It is important that you garlic is completely coated in fat. This will prevent singing. If you garlic finishes before spaghetti, off heat and set aside momentarily.)
- When the water is boiling, add spaghetti, swish with a wooden fork and cook until barely al dente (about five minutes).
- Drain spaghetti, reserving three tablespoons pasta cooking liquid.
- Add spaghetti to sauté pan with garlic and fat. Heat over medium heat, tossing to coat in garlic/ fat mixture.
- Add pasta cooking liquid, red pepper flakes and fresh parsley.
- Toss and sauté for an additional 60 seconds.
- Taste for salt and a little pinch of salt to preference.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Serve hot in shallow bowls. A simple salad is a nice accompaniment.