When I asked my mother what sort of dishes I should consider cooking for National Garlic Month, she immediately waxed poetic about the virtues of Pasta Aglio e Olio. For twenty minutes. This is a woman who hates to cook and here she is, telling me that I just have to make aglio e olio. You can eat it on it’s own, she said! Toss in leftover veggies the next day and you’ve got a garlic pasta primavera! It makes frozen veggies NOT taste like overcooked, watery mush! You’ve GOT to make aglio e olio! As it turns out, a plant-based version comes together in a snap.
It’s what my mom cooks when she does not want to cook. But it is so delicious that it makes my father jump up and down when he can smell the garlic wafting through the house.
That is the stuff I’m talking about.
What is Pasta Aglio e Olio?
Aglio e olio simply means “garlic and oil” in Italian. That’s it! These are the two star ingredients of our dish. If you have those two things in your cabinet plus some pasta, you can make pasta aglio e olio. Sure, you can jazz it up with some roasted red pepper flakes or wilted greens, but you don’t need those things. Garlic and oil. Easy as pie. Actually, probably way easier than pie.
Oh, and to all of you non-Brooklyn, non-Italian-Americans out there, is actually pronounced All-yuh-ole-yuh. As if it’s one word.
Truth time: I did not know how to spell it when I first started writing this post because I actually thought it was one word. Which caused my mother to exclaim: “What kind of mother am I that I did not teach you this!?” Her reaction was not unlike an Italian nonna whose grandchild has hit puberty but hasn’t yet learned how to make sauce. Whoops. Please do not revoke my Italian card.
How Do We Prepare The Garlic?
Listen up. This is not a situation where we will roast garlic. The garlic in this case has to be fresh. Mince several cloves really well, and, here is the key:
SWEAT YOUR GARLIC. DO NOT SAUTÉ IT. DO NOT LET THE GARLIC BROWN.
Why is this important? Our ultimate aim in the recipe is to infuse the oil with garlic flavor. Cook it too much or burn it, and the garlic will turn bitter, making the oil bitter. Making the pasta bitter. You do not want bitter oil pasta. We want that sweet sweet garlic aroma infusing our oil. Cook the garlic low and slow. Say it with me: low and slow.
Sweating garlic is easy. Turn your stovetop burner down to the lowest setting it has, somewhere between a 1 and a 2. Warm three tablespoons of oil for a couple of minutes (don’t let it get too hot!) and add the garlic. When you put garlic in a pan of oil to sweat, the garlic should not sizzle. If the garlic has a loud sizzle when it hits the pan, your oil is way too hot! Of course, you will hear some noise. But we are aiming for quiet cooking, not sizzling. This website has a fabulous explanation (with photos!) of the difference between sautéing and sweating vegetables.
Got it? Good! Let’s make some pasta.
Pasta Aglio e Olio
- medium or large sauté pan
- pasta pot
- ½ pound spaghetti or angel hair pasta*
- 4 quarts water generously salted
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4-5 cloves garlic finely minced
- 3-4 cups baby greens optional
- red pepper flakes optional
- vegan parmesan cheese optional
- Fill a large pasta pot with at least four quarts of water.
- Salt the water generously** and bring to a rolling boil.
- Add pasta and cook until al dente. The cook time will vary depending on the pasta you choose. Angel hair cooks completely in 3-5 minutes, while spaghetti takes longer. Be mindful of the time!
- While the pasta is cooking begin to prepare the garlic oil. Warm 3 tablespoons of oil over very low heat.
- Once warmed, add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant and slightly translucent, approximately 5-7 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown! Once cooked, set aside.
- When the pasta is done, drain immediately and return to the pasta pot.
- Pour the garlic oil over the pasta and toss.
- If using, add baby greens to the pot while the pasta is still hot and toss, wilting the greens.
- Divide pasta onto serving dishes and garnish with red pepper flake and vegan parmesan cheese, as desired.
Ugh. Just writing this made me hungry. I think I’m going to have to go have some pasta now.
If you want to make it, let me know! Snap a picture and tag @kettleandkale. And make leftovers! While it doesn’t freeze great, pasta aglio e olio will last several days in the fridge. Toss it with whatever vegetables you have on hand, even ones from the freezer! Garlic makes everything better. The End.