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.
- 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.