Second nature

It seems that making and eating Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is second nature to most Italians I know. Everyone seems to nod in agreement about this very simple, classic, thrifty and delicious combination of four ingredients; spaghetti, aglio (garlic), olio (oil), e peperoncino (chill) which can be five if you choose to include prezzemolo (parsley) and six if you count the salt. It is a dish many people love like an old friend, one who is always there and has seen you through thick and thin, a friend who regardless of time, fashion, fads and the weather just is.

I’ve probably watched spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino being made more than any other dish of pasta over the last five years. I ‘ve watched various hands in various kitchens, the familiar sequence of movements with idiosyncratic variations, the flurry of spaghetti, boiling water, steam, generous glugs of olive oil, flecks of white, red and green which rather patriotically echo the colours of the Italian flag. I’ve watched spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino made with great precision, relaxed ease and on one blurry occasion, seen it flung together chaotically and noisily (but ultimately very successfully) by an impressively inebriated Neapolitan, a friend of a friend, who then proceeded to topple off his chair into a rumpled heap before he managed to get the first forkful into his mouth. This is the dish, along with pasta e pomodoro that has been described to me most often, and with most affection by my students during our lessons.

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino might not be second nature to me but I have fallen for its charms. I have grown accustomed and extremely fond of a plate of good spaghetti, one with body and texture, doused with plenty of extra virgin olive oil, heavily scented with garlic, leant heat and kicks by the bright red chilli and then soothed by the grassy green nature of the flat leaved parsley.

This is a recipe that manages to be both specific, it is what it is – spaghetti, garlic, oil and chilli - and more often than not very non-specific, a broad-sweeping brush-stroke, an idea rather than a recipe. You cook as much garlic as you choose in as much olive oil as you choose (this is no time for measuring glug, glug glug), you add hot chilies to taste before stirring this into as much spaghetti as you feel like eating cooked in the way you like. Finally, if you fancy, you can add some chopped parsley and some of the cooking water to loosen everything. You eat.

Of course there are more exact recipes with very precise quantities written in knowledgable books by wise people, but most of them, even the most prescriptive, will suggest that this has, by its very nature, to be a very personal recipe as far as quantities go. Experimenting, being sensitive to the age and the strength of the garlic and chilli, tasting, doing it differently the following time, finding the proportions that suit you. Having said that, I am going to give you the quite specific quantities and instructions that were given to me by my ex- student Lucia, who is a superb cook, as loose guidelines. They can be a fixed point around which you (as I did and do) can improvise.

Really good food, deeply satisfying, bold, tasty and without a doubt one of my favourite pasta dishes. Real fast food to boot, about 9 minutes if you don’t include bringing the water for the pasta to the boil. I am wondering if you have all the ingredients in your kitchen now, I think you just might.

I often make this for lunch when I’m on my own. I tend to be very slap-dash with the olive oil and salt and probably overly generous with the chilli and parsley – Vincenzo says there should only be a suggestion of parsley and that I am heavyhanded. When I have no lessons straight after lunch I am also garlic happy, especially at this time of year when it is young and mild. Fortunately these guidelines from Lucia are rather more precise, modest and helpful than my slap-dash measuring, they are also reassuringly similar to those given by the extremely good and reliable Marcella Hazan.

Seek out good quality spaghetti ( to my friends and family in England, I have noticed the excellent Garofalo pasta in several shops in London), decent extra virgin olive oil, plump pearly white garlic, scarlet chilli’s, fresh vibrantly green parsley……

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino or Spaghetti with garlic. oil and chilli.

serves 2

  • 200g spaghetti
  • 4-6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed with the back of a heavy knife then very finely chopped
  • 1 modest sized fresh red-hot chilli pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
  • a pinch of dried chilli
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring a large pan of water to a fast boil, salt generously and put in the spaghetti.

During the last 5 minutes of the spaghetti cooking time put the olive oil, garlic and fresh chilli in a frying pan. Over a medium-low flame heat the oil and allow the garlic and chilli to warm and then gently sizzle – turning golden but not brown – until the spaghetti is ready. Add the dried chilli and a little salt to the pan.

Drain the spaghetti and reserve a little of the cooking water.

Tip the spaghetti into the frying pan, turn off the heat. Then carefully turn the pasta over and over in the oil, garlic and chilli so every strand is coated. If you like, add a tablespoon of the pasta cooking water to moisten everything and then add the parsley before turning the pasta over and over again.

Divide the spaghetti between two warm plates and eat immediately.

Serve with bread to mop up the oil at the end.

Have a good weekend my friends.

36 Comments

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36 responses to “Second nature

  1. I had no idea what to make for supper tonight, so I made this…before I saw your post, of course. Great minds. I am heavy handed with everything when it comes to this dish, although tonight I could have gone a little heavier with the salt. One thing can throw the entire dish off…just slightly. It is very good though. Many of my t-shirts can attest to its tastiness. Splash and splots…I really must start wearing a bib.

    • rachel

      I like that we are in Tune in both supper (well lunch in my case) and heavy handedness.
      Vincenzo tucks his napkin in his T-shirt which i find hilarious..it is sensible I suppose,
      maybe we should start?

  2. This made me hungry:)

  3. Perfect for dinner tonight.

  4. I love the bit about the chap falling into a rumpled heap before he could eat!

    • rachel

      What was even funnier is that we were all so very merry, nobody blinked an eyelid.
      I heard he didn’t move until the following morning,

  5. my absolute favorite pasta dish. the 1st time i ever cooked for my husband-to-be, i made this. behold the seductive properties of oil and garlic!

    also, on a whim last weekend, i made a double batch, and used the leftovers the next morning to make the best pasta frittata i’ve had to date.

  6. Are you familiar with the Italian expression “sfondare una porta aperta”? With this post that’s what happens with me, you bash in an otherwise already open doorway. I posted this same recipe last year and titled it “Spaghetti URL” since my blog name is Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino.

    This here is so lovely, under every point of view, even photographic!
    I like the preamble about un the personal interpretation of the quantities.

    Ciao Rachel, have a great weekend and yes, let’s meet soon!

  7. Sono i miei preferiti da sempre… belle le foto!

  8. Lovely lovely! I was out a bit late last night – I don’t suppose you could pop over to San Francisco and whip up a bowl of this for me this morning? I’m thinking you might have other plans and I’m going to have to do this myself…. I love the amount of olive oil you call for here.

  9. beautiful photos, as always. love the glugs of olive oil which go into this. a go-to dish for a home alone meal or when unexpectedly, lots of guests show up. have made this for them, and it works a charm, as long as there is some good wine to go with. x shayma

  10. I savored every inverted syllable of this post, which is CALLING out for a glass of crisp Ligurian Vermentino, although considering your ubication, as the Italians might say, a sturdy Trebbiano might be more appropriate. So glad to have discovered your blog… :-)

    • rachel

      Crisp vermentino or sturdy trebbiano both sound pretty wonderful – I humbly,
      and willingly take your advice wise Do Bianchi (I am a fan as you know)

  11. This made the perfect Friday night dinner—with all the garlic i could handle– and inspired me to keep parsley on hand. Lovin’ it.

  12. yes, this is what I call Life-Saver food.

    all that’s needed is right at hand,
    can be cooked in a flash, even
    when you’re outta-your-mind Hungry,
    and is sooooo satisfying.

    we have garofalo penne and farfalle at our local market, hope they will add spaghetti or linguine

    • rachel

      Nancy, Yes this has saved me on many occasions and it is Vincenzo’s post concert re-fuel.
      I am particulary fond of the garofalo penne, oh and the ditalini too…

  13. I always save your posts because I don’t want to rush or skim. I’m glad I waited. This was a pleasure, as always. Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino looks like simplicity at its best. Okay, I believe I’ve uttered enough clichés for this evening. More original thoughts coming soon.

  14. garofalo is always good! one of my faves when i lived in ischia, still very reliable when you can find it here in austin. looks great :)

    • rachel

      Tracie, I have yet to visit Ischia, you lived there, how wonderful.
      I imagine you have very good advice when it comes to wine for this pasta !

  15. I make this dish all the time, also when I’m alone for lunch. So simply, and so delicious. Think I’ll make it today.

  16. Arrabiata was my signature dish for years, but this was a close second. It’s the ultimate lazy bachelor food, and yes, it has a certain magic at lunchtime.

  17. Not saying how I know this for sure, but a dish of spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino does wonders to ease a Sunday morning head.

  18. Pingback: Spicy Spaghetti « Tasting Trials and Tribulations

  19. Pingback: Recipes to Try | Live and Learn

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