The Naples classic of spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino -- spaghetti tossed with extra-virgin olive oil in which a bit of garlic and red chile pepper (either dried or fresh) have been sauteed -- is one of the simplest, quickest, and yet most satisfying, pasta dishes of all. It takes no more than about 15 minutes to make, including boiling the pasta water, so it's great when you're pressed for time, or for a late-night snack too close out an evening. It's probably the one dish that just about every Italian man knows how to make.
The most basic version contains only pasta, olive oil, chile pepper, garlic, and salt, things that most people will always have on hand in their pantry, but the optional ingredients that I always add (if I happen to have them or planned ahead of time and bought some) -- fresh flat-leaf parsley and breadcrumbs -- make this delicious dish even better.
American versions of this dish tend to use far more garlic than is used in Italy -- often twice as much -- and in fact some Italians will even cut the garlic into large slices, saute them in the oil to flavor it, and then remove and discard the garlic slices before mixing the oil with the pasta. I don't prefer that since I love to have bits of garlic in the pasta itself, but what I've given in this recipe is closer to an Italian amount, perhaps a bit more; feel free to adjust the amounts of garlic and pepper to suit your personal taste. Some Americanized versions also add grated cheese to this dish, though traditionalists (including me) would never do that.
- 1 pound (450 grams) spaghetti
- 1/3 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs (optional, but recommended)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile pepper flakes, or 1-2 dried peperoncini chile peppers, crushed (you can also use 1-2 small fresh, red chile peppers instead of dried peppers -- remove the seeds and membrane inside to make them less spicy)
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (optional, but recommended)
- Set a large covered pot of water over high heat to boil. When it reaches a rolling boil, salt the water (follow the recommendations in this article) and add the spaghetti, giving a few stirs to keep the pasta from clumping together.
- Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil and breadcrumbs over medium heat and toast the crumbs in the oil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 3 minutes. (If you are not using bread crumbs, then skip this step and instead heat the oil together with the minced garlic.)
- Add the minced garlic and continue cooking until garlic is just fragrant and lightly colored about 1 minute. Be careful not to overcook the garlic, or it will become bitter.
- Add the red pepper (dried or fresh) and chopped parsley and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- When your pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water.
- Toss the spaghetti with the oil, garlic, and breadcrumbs until evenly coated. Add a little bit of the pasta cooking water, as needed, if the mixture is too dry.
- Serve immediately. This dish would pair well with a white wine such as a Greco di Tufo.