Aglio (pronounced ‘ah-llyo’), Olio e Peperoncino (Garlic, Oil and Chili Pepper) is one of the simplest and most popular Italian pasta sauces, and one of the most delicious. Its simplicity is unmatched for showcasing perfectly cooked, high-quality spaghetti, the cut of pasta that it best goes with. Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino is really more of a pasta dressing, rather than an actual sauce. And it’s perfect for when there is no time to make a sauce, for a midnight snack, or for unexpected guests.
Italian cuisine is based on quality – the more a dish is simple, the more it requires the best ingredients. And this is definitely the case with Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino.
Let’s start with the pasta: a typical serving of 70-80 grams per person of dried durum semolina spaghetti from a quality Italian brand (e.g.: Voiello, De Cecco, Barilla). It’s possible to use another cut of pasta – spaghetti could be replaced with linguine, but that’s pretty much as far as an Italian would push it. Definitely, short pasta wouldn’t be appropriate, and neither would egg noodles.
Even by sticking to spaghetti, most Italians have a preference of what thickness best suits this dish. Every brand has its own “units”, for instance in my family we’ve always preferred the thicker Barilla #7 (‘Spaghettoni’), whereas the most popular kind is the thinner #5.
Another fundamental choice that Italians make is whether or not to break the spaghetti in half before boiling them. Traditionally, pasta should never be cut – not before cooking it and especially never after it has been dished out. However, boiling 10 inch long noodles requires a particularly tall pot and breaking them in half may be practical.
As for the oil, extra virgin olive oil is a must for this dish. Other than being a vessel on which to carry the flavor of the pasta and the spiciness of the chilies, extra virgin olive oil brings its distinct aroma, which perfectly complements them.
The third and last ingredient, chili pepper, tops up the flavor profile with the simplest cooking trick: adding some heat! Any kind of chilies can be used, from a fresh cayenne pepper to dried flakes. It’s only important to get the desired amount of spiciness, which is usually medium-hot.
- 150 g high quality dried spaghetti
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (or 1 fresh cayenne pepper*)
- (optional) 2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Start boiling the pasta in "abundant salty water" (fig.1).
- In a small pan, warm up the olive oil at medium heat for a minute.
- Add the crushed garlic and let it fry until it turns golden-brown (fig. 2).
*If using a fresh cayenne pepper, it should be seeded and roasted along with the garlic and then also removed.
- Turn off the heat, discard the garlic and add the chili flakes (fig. 3).
- As soon as the pasta is cooked "al dente", drain it in a colander and toss it back in the empty pot.
- Pour in the garlic chili oil, quickly stir and dish the pasta into serving bowls.
- If desired, add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.