Monday, January 24, 2011

International Week -- Pasta con Aglio e Olio

This plain-looking pasta dish is ridiculously simple, yet flavorful beyond my ability to describe it. It takes almost no time to prepare, and yet is remarkable for its richness and ability to satisfy. And it has a secret ingredient which you'll likely not guess -- and which most people who eat it won't guess either -- that provides less of an overpowering assertion and more of an "umami" [ooh-MAH-mee]: that indefinable savory "je ne sais quoi" quality that cannot be discerned but which makes its presence known.

This is another recipe shared through my ex-husband, from an Italian immigrant he met a few years ago. I'm told that the man's English was rather poor, but his eyes and his smile shone as he described this dish in the foreign (to him) language, because his love for it is so pure and abundant.

Now, first let me translate the Italian name of the dish for you: Pasta con Aglio e Olio [PAHS-tuh kohn AHL-yo eh OHL-yo] means "Pasta with Garlic and Oil." Oh, how woefully inadequate that title is, even in the more beautiful language!

Because the sauce for the pasta contains not just garlic and oil, but also anchovies.

Yup, you read that right -- anchovies. Those little fuzzy, smelly fishies that can guarantee you won't have to share your pizza with anyone if you plop some of 'em on top.

And yet, once they've melted into the garlic oil -- and they will essentially melt, leaving only miniscule traces of their existence -- those anchovies impart a flavor so full of depth, with a hint of smokiness and a touch of saltiness that isn't readily identifiable as "salty," that you will simply want to inhale platesful of this dish.

You could add peas or carrots or spinach or tomatoes or any other vegetable to this meal to brighten it up and to add nutrition. But sometimes simplicity is precisely what you need.

Pasta con Aglio e Olio (Pasta with Garlic and Oil)

pasta of your choice, for 4 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets in oil, drained of most of the oil
2/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon butter
parmesan, for serving

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic, and cook just until the garlic starts to turn lightly brown. Add the anchovies.

Cook, pressing down on the anchovies with a spoon, for 5 minutes or so, stirring to break up the anchovies.

Add the broth, and bring to a boil. Cook until sauce is dark brown and reduced by half.

Stir in butter, then pour sauce over pasta; toss to coat pasta with the sauce.

Serve with parmesan, and mangia bene! [MAHN-juh BEH-neh] = eat well!

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Branson said...

Hmmm... I would try this if I didnt have to cook it, lol. Visiting from ftlob. Happy monday :)

Unknown said...

I used to go to this Italian restaurant when I was in college where I would order a HUGE bowl of Pasta con Aglio e Olio...omg was it so good. Funny that I have never made it at home! You will now be my inspiration!!! :)

Candace said...

ohmygosh! I want some! I've been so brave lately that I might even attempt to cook with the anchovies. I will have to get nosy David out of the house while I'm preparing it though or he will never eat it. Thank you for another wonderful recipe, Mary.

TexaGermaFinlaNadian said...

This looks sooo good! I have some left over anchovy paste I just might have to use with this recipe. And you're too funny with the pronunciations, what a good idea!

Hopped over from FTLOB and glad I did. Now to have a better peek around!

Cranberry Morning said...

Well, Mary, you've certainly sold me on this pasta dish! And I could even hear your ex's friend describing it. Thank you also for the pronunciation guide. I wish all of life came with a pronunciation guide, for I have this [probably unreasonable] compulsion to find out how things are pronounced.

KristinMarieCA said...

That looks amazing! I love pasta. I could literally eat pasta in some form or another every day of the week, and not get tired of it! Will definitely have to try this recipe.


Cat and DOG Chat With Caren said...

I have never cooked with anchovies yet...I cook all the time and so far haven't been able to bring myself to use them. I always hear they cook down...I will have to try them one day.
This dish looks delicious! I love olive oil and cheese on pasta....I would probably use whole wheat pasta....this looks fabulous!

Unknown said...

Sounds yummy. I would have to break down and try the anchovies.

I am your newest follower from Making Friends Monday. Have a great day!


Gina Alfani said...

This is one of my favorite pasta dishes . . . but I don't use the anchovies.

I'm following you from the Mixed Bag Blog Hop . . . hope you get a chance to visit my blogs too :)

Have a wonderful Monday . . . Gina
. . . and many more!

Sheila said...

Sounds yummy. Think it would be good with spaghetti squash? :)

mrsking14 said...

Following you from Mixed Bag Monday. You can find me at

Carol said...

Yum! Adding this to the menu this week...thanks for reminding me how much I love this.

Carol-the gardener

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