There are moments when, even with time and energy at your disposal, you just want the simplest of pastas. And there are also moments when you have almost zero time and almost zero energy, and you still need to get dinner on the table. Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is the pasta recipe for those nights. It’s also a pasta that even picky eaters will usually embrace, and you can dial down the amount of garlic and reduce or skip the addition of red pepper flakes if you want a more subtle garlic flavor.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
In its purest form, this dish is a combo of olive oil, garlic, and pasta, seasoned with salt and pepper plus red pepper flakes and loosened up with a bit of pasta cooking water. The parsley and Parmesan are optional and frequently added, but in its purest form, you don’t even need to include those ingredients. This dish is very popular in Naples and all throughout Italy. It’s cheap, it’s made with pantry staples, and it comes together quickly and easily.
How Do You Pronounce Aglio e Olio?
It is pronounced Spaghetti AHL-yoh eh OHL-yoh. The translation is spaghetti with garlic and oil, and that is just about the entirety of this dish. But well-made, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is vastly different from a slapdash one, even though it takes the same amount of time to do it well.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio: The classic easy combination of olive oil, garlic, and pasta, seasoned with salt and pepper plus red pepper flakes, and loosened up with a bit of pasta cooking water. Simple perfection.Tweet This
Tips for Perfect Aglio e Olio
There are very few ingredients in this dish, so make every one of them count!
The garlic can’t be overcooked or over browned, or undercooked. Take the time to sauté the garlic for a few minutes over just the right heat level to get that perfectly golden, fragrant, nutty garlic. Start the garlic and oil together at room temperature, and gently heat the two ingredients together. This will allow you to control the cooking process, and the garlic will color evenly and slowly. Browned garlic becomes bitter, and burnt garlic even more so. Use fresh garlic that you slice yourself, rather than the pre-minced stuff in a jar — it’s the predominant flavor of the dish, so the freshness really counts.
Use good olive oil. The best olive oil that you have. This is a good use of extra-virgin olive oil, as it is one of the few key ingredients in the dish.
You don’t have to add red pepper flakes, or chili flakes, but even a small amount gives it a gentle amount of heat that adds interest to the dish. Definitely add more chili peppers if you like. In Italy, they often use crumbled dried pepper or a fresh hot pepper, but red pepper flakes are a quick and simple substitute.
How to Make Aglio e Olio
Combine the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat the oil and stir the garlic until it just begins to turn light golden.
Adjust the heat as necessary if the garlic appears to be turning golden too slowly or coloring too quickly. When the garlic has just turned golden, remove it from the heat.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, then remove ½ cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot, and then pour in the garlic oil with the sliced garlic. Toss gently, adding as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as you wish to create a sauce, along with the Parmesan if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil as desired, and toss until the pasta is well coated with the oil and garlic. Garnish with the parsley, if desired, and serve.
Pasta Cooking Tips
- Buy a good pasta, preferably an Italian brand. Again, there are very few components in this dish, so make each one the best it can be. If you can find artisanal or bronze-cut dried pasta, you will find that it has a more interesting texture; even when fully cooked, it doesn’t become too soft or mushy. This dish is usually made with spaghetti or other long, thin pasta. Spaghetti Aglio e Olio is almost always made with dried rather than fresh pasta in Italy.
- Cook the pasta in lots of rapidly boiling water. One pound of pasta should be cooked in about 5 quarts of water. Salt the water generously — add at least 2 tablespoons of water to the pot. Without salting the water, your pasta will taste bland and flat, no matter how well-seasoned the sauce is. Stir the pasta frequently as it cooks, especially at the beginning. Taste to see when the pasta becomes al dente, and drain it right away.
- Add the oil and cheese (if using) and seasonings as soon as the pasta is drained. The hotter the pasta, the more easily it will absorb the oil and cheese.
- You can add some other fresh herbs to this dish at the end when you toss the pasta with the garlic oil. Think about a couple of tablespoons of chopped basil or mint or a combo.
What to Serve With Pasta Aglio e Olio
If you are making this dish, you are probably aiming for a very simple meal. Here are some simple main courses, vegetables, and salads that would round this out into a more complete menu!
- Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
- Sautéed Broccolini
- Green Salad
- Baked Cod
- Baked Salmon
- Crispy Baked Eggplant Parmesan
Other Simple Pasta Recipes
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Pasta Aglio e Olio
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)
- 3 garlic cloves (very thinly sliced)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (plus more to serve)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- 1 pound dried spaghetti
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan (plus more to serve, optional)
- Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (to serve, optional)
- Place the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Allow the garlic to warm and give the oil a swirl or a stir every now and then until the oil heats up, and the garlic just begins to turn light golden. Adjust the heat as necessary if the garlic appears to be turning golden too slowly or coloring too quickly. When the garlic has just turned golden, remove it from the heat.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, then remove ½ cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta.
- Return the pasta to the pot, and then pour in the garlic oil. Make sure that the garlic doesn’t get left behind in the pan. Toss gently, adding as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as you wish to create a sauce, and the Parmesan if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil as desired/needed, and toss until the pasta is well coated with the oil and garlic. Garnish with the parsley, if desired, and serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.