Garlic at your own risk
It has enough garlic to kill Dracula. There should be no reason that pasta aglio e olio couldn’t kill a sinusitis, right?
That’s why it was part of my battle plan for the day after I arrived back home, a trip that required two excruciating intercontinental flights. Besides, why else would anyone make pasta with nothing more than garlic and olive oil?
Other than being Neapolitan, I have no idea about the Italian history of the dish, but I imagine the end of the winter: the food is gone; there are no vegetables; you ate all the preserved meats; you are left with cheese rinds you cut up and ration to flavor broth; the children whimper in hunger; now what?
With the great creativity of the Italian people who never surrender, and who are capable of making magic out of nothing, the traditional recipe is with either linguine or spaghetti, a generous amount of olive oil, many cloves of garlic, red pepper and parsley. That’s it. Simple, quick and easy, right?
I’ve always found it amusing that that is what they all say. There is nothing easy about aglio e olio. Actually, I think it is one of the most difficult of pasta sauces to cook, because it is actually almost uncooked. You have to have the right tools: a good mortar and pestle; a heavy steel or iron pan (no aluminum contraption, coated or not, will do!) And you have to have some knowledge about garlic (one little piece of burned garlic is more unforgiving and stronger than an entire head of garlic that was been sautéed slowly with an almost equal amount of parsley in a pan heavy enough to protect it). You had better have everything you need at hand, because it is a dish that is “assembled” and not “cooked”; there will be no time to revert mistakes as you might with a slow cooking sauce.
For nutritional reasons, however, I wanted to add broccoli. I remembered my sister’s recipe, an old Roman one, in which broccoli is quickly sautéed with olive oil, garlic, red pepper and lemon zest.
Therefore, I used eight cloves, almost the entire head of garlic with what I have always called an equal (visual) amount of chopped parsley, a generous pinch of dry red pepper flakes and another of lemon zest, and a normal pinch of salt. I smash them into a paste with the mortar and pestle before pouring in my best olive oil (that doesn’t say much these days!), covering the paste by a finger of oil before mixing it all up.
With pasta water boiling, I scald the broccoli, giving it a 30-second dip with a strainer and then setting it aside.
I heat more olive oil in the heavy pan on the lowest heat. The moment I can smell the oil, I throw in the contents of the mortar. Once the garlic aroma rises, a throw in the broccoli. In my kitchen with my good pan and horrible, ungovernable stove, I think the sauté was 2 minutes.
Turn it off and REMOVE THE PAN from the burner. Cover it. Now you are free to concentrate on cooking pasta al dente. I prefer angel hair. Add the strained, cooked pasta to the sauce pan, stiring to evenly coat the pasta with the broccoli aglio e olio.
I’m not sure that was enough to kill Dracula, but it certainly got me back on my feet again.