Blu Aubergine Blog

RECIPE: Spaghetti Aglio Olio Peperoncino

Italians excel at making something from nothing -- anzi, something great from nothing much. This is especially true when it comes to food, and the culinary embodiment of this magic is spaghetti aglio olio peperoncino.

This pasta is a standard go-to and a real comfort dish for Italians everywhere. The thinking is that at any given time, every Italian worth his or her salt in the kitchen has some garlic, olive oil, and dried chile pepper on hand. And pasta, of course.

It's comfort food because the flavors are the backbone of so many Italian dishes, and a standard because it's easy and quick. Years ago, when I'd been working at San Domenico New York for only a matter of weeks, I threw a holiday party with my roommates at our apartment. I invited my new amici from the kitchen, who showed up in a group after dinner service was over, some time after midnight. This arrival en masse didn't only give a jolt to the party (comments of the "where did all these hot Italian men come from??" variety were overheard). It also provided for late-night feeding. When the guests who remained into the wee hours got hungry again, after finishing off all of my cocktail party nibbles, the Italians came to the rescue. 

Exaggeration? Maybe a little...
All of a sudden, the ragazzi were in our kitchen, whipping out pots and pans, pasta and provisions. And somehow, in a flash, they were all shirtless as well! (perhaps they were not used to the stifling heat of Manhattan apartments in the winter?). And in seemingly the time it took to open another bottle of prosecco and fill glasses, we were all being served by lovely, topless Italian cooks, the perfume of browned garlic and spicy chile lingering in the air. Buon appetito! they announced. And silence fell on the crowd as everybody stuffed their faces appreciatively. Friends still remember that night fondly, noting that is was "one of the best pastas ever." Sometimes, simplicity rules. (And drunken hunger pangs help. As do sexy shirtless Italian men).
Garlic, olive oil, chile pepper, and pasta
So, the basic formula is this: Boil water. If using dried pasta, boil the pasta (if using fresh, throw the pasta into the water once you've already infused the oil). While it's cooking, you heat some olive oil, chopped garlic, and peperoncino in a pan. When the pasta is done cooking, toss it into the pan, add salt to taste, lots of chopped parsley if you have on hand, and there you have it. It's basic. The art of the dish is in the timing, the flourishes, the additions and modifications. 

I give the recipe as 'spaghetti', though the pasta could be any kind, keeping in mind that pasta lunga (long pasta) really is best. Fresh pasta works equally as well, as the tagliatelle in these photos will attest. I add parmigiano reggiano cheese when I have it on hand because I like it, but you can add any kind of grated cheese, or not, as you see fit. Same with the parsley, or any green herb (I've often thought that a handful of chives would add an interesting verdant, onion-y dimension to the dish). Once you get the timing down, and know enough not to burn the garlic and chile pepper, you can have fun with personalizing your very own version of aglio olio peperoncino. Topless Italian men optional.

(4-6 people)

4 TBS. extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped up finely
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes (or whole peperoncino broken up)
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 lb. spaghetti
1/2 cup grated parmigiano cheese

- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add a generous couple of pinches of salt (the water should be briny, almost like seawater), and toss in the pasta and stir.
-After the pasta has been cooking for 6 minutes, heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil until warm, and then add the garlic and peperoncino, cooking until the garlic is barely browned, a minute or so.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta and add directly to the pan with the oil in it. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss pasta to coat it with the oil mixture. Add the parsley and the cheese and stir until evenly distributed. Taste and adjust for salt. If the pasta is dry, add a little of the salted cooking water to the pan.
-Dig in!