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Secret to spaghetti with garlic and oil?

What do restaurants do to make this so delicious? I have an old Hazan cookbook that calls for chopping garlic and simmering it in the olive oil, but not letting it brown. (At this point, I'm going on memory.) There's parsley in there too. I've always made it this way, but it's not as good as I've had it in some restaurants, where the garlic flavor really blossoms...and sometimes it's sliced, not chopped.

Any advice? Thanks.

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  1. my thoughts:
    - it could have something to do with the quality of the oil you're using - you definitely want a good EVOO for this.
    - i've always had it - and made it - with sliced garlic, never chopped. and you do want the garlic to get a tiny bit of color on it, you just don't want it browned.
    - warm the oil over a medium flame with a pinch of red chili flakes or a piece of dried red chili pepper (this is optional for some, but not for me)...add the garlic a few minutes before the pasta is ready, and cook in the oil until just slightly golden.

    5 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      Would love to try making this. Of course, the simplest dishes are usually the hardest. What would the proportions be for two servings? Thanks.

      1. re: Sarah

        depends how large those two "servings" are ;) i'll give you my basic standard proportions and you can take it from there...

        1 lb. dried spaghetti
        1/2 cup *good* extra virgin olive oil
        4 medium garlic cloves, sliced
        1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes OR 1 small dried red chili
        kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
        optional - freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Grana Padano, or Pecorino Romano)

        buon appetito!

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          Thank you, ghg. If I halved your recipe, it'll make two jumbo-esque servings for us!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Veering off-track: I use this recipe but add a few anchovy fillets to the sauce. And sometimes capers as well. Guess I'm in puttanesca territory.

            1. re: mrbozo

              yes, i wanted to stick to the specifics of the recipe she requested...but puttanesca territory is one of my favorite places to travel ;)

      2. I like to add the oil and garlic slices to a cold pan so that the garlic has time to infuse while it heats up. Add peperoncino when garlic starts to brown.
        Don't forget to save some of the pasta water. If in the end the pasta is too dry, add water rather than oil to moisten it.

        1. This is how I make Aglio Olio, my son's favorite dish.

          First, chop up a good amount of garlic. I like to chop mine finely, and for two servings I would say about three cloves. We like that garlic taste!

          Put your water on to boil. Meanwhile, put some quality olive oil in a fry or saute pan that is large enough to hold the pasta you are cooking. Add the garlic, coarse salt and as much or as little red pepper flakes as you would like. Let the garlic ALMOST begin to color and remove the pan to another, cold place. When the spaghetti is nearly done -- and I mean very al dente -- put the pan with the garlic on a high heat and add the pasta along with a fair amount of the pasta cooking water. Stir constantly until the spaghetti reaches a proper al dente consistency. Turn off the heat, add some chopped parsley if you like, and pass cheese if you like. We never have cheese with this, but some people like it. If you would like an even more assertive garlic taste, you can begin by lightly browning (and I do mean lightly -- almost no color) a couple of crush garlic cloves and removing them before adding the chopped garlic, salt and pepper flakes.

          8 Replies
          1. re: roxlet

            Yes, this is the key. If you finish cooking the pasta in the sauce with some of the pasta cooking water, the pasta will absorb the flavor of the sauce and taste much better, and it have more of a "sauce," not just a slick of oil.

            One thing you didn't mention is that the pasta water should be salted -- Italian cooks say to make the pasta water as salty as the sea. It is especially important to salt the pasta cooking water if you are going to be using it to finish your sauce.

            1. re: Westminstress

              You're right! I always salt my water and it's just something that I assume everyone does. But it definitely bears mentioning in case someone doesn't.

              1. re: roxlet

                Very true. I forgot to salt the water the other day-- the pasta was awful and went into the trash.

              2. re: Westminstress

                Salty as the sea?
                Too salty for me.

                And I'm not a low sodium case. But I am Asian on both sides, and we tend to use our main starch (rice) as a mostly neutral foil for other salted elements of our meal. Pasta as salty as the sauce that dresses it is overkill to my buds.

                1. re: inaplasticcup

                  i never find that the pasta turns out overly salty by heavily salting the water, do you? Just gives it some flavor, as opposed to none.

                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    I guess "heavily" is subjective. :)

                    But for me, a tablespoon or so of salt is just enough to keep the flavor of the pasta from being flat, much in the way a pinch of salt added to many foods adds a subtle new dimension without necessarily making it noticeably salted to the palate.

                    But I've also had pasta cooked in heavily salted water, and while it doesn't make the pasta inedible to me, I do notice the difference, and it's saltier than I like.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      I'm with inaplasticcup on this. Pasta cooked in water "salty as the sea" (and drained) = really salty pasta to me.

                      Worse yet if the pasta water is also added to the already seasoned sauce when tossing or finishing the dish. It's fine if the water wasn't as "salty as the sea".

                    2. re: inaplasticcup

                      Although I'm also asian and grew up with unsalted starch, I do like my italian pasta well seasoned. I want it seasoned well enough where I can toss it with butter or EVOO and eat it straight.

                2. The finer you chop the garlic, the stronger the garlic flavor. Since this is a dish about garlic, mince it to a paste (chop it with kosher salt and drag the blade across it a few times) or run it through a garlic press for maximum garlic flavor. I cook most of the garlic in the olive oil until it's golden, about the color of straw. Cook a dash of red peper flakes with it at the same time for extra zing. Since sautéeing mellows the garlic, I keep a little bit of the minced garlic out of the sauté and toss it into the pasta raw.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    Also use a mixture of cooked and uncooked garlic--a bit more punchy. A few other ideas: 1) I generally mix in a bit of the pasta cooking water to moisten it without relying on too much oil. 2) Some Italian is probably gonna lynch me over this, but I use a mixture of olive oil and butter--maybe 50-50. 3) I mix just a bit of grated Reggiano into it before serving--this rounds out the flavour and gives a bit of body to the sauce. 4) LOTS of salt--without it the dish is pretty tragic.

                    1. re: zamorski

                      actually, it's a very italian technique to use butter and olive oil, i've heard...

                      1. re: zamorski

                        LOL, I was going to mention that I always use butter and oil together but thought I might get flamed for inauthenticity. Glad to know there are other rebels out there!

                        1. re: biondanonima

                          as i've always said - given a choice between more delicious and more "authentic" - i will choose delicious every time

                        2. re: zamorski

                          I was also going to suggest a mixture of oil and butter. My ratio is about 70:30 oil to butter, though. Also agree with the major salt and reggiano recommendation.

                      2. It took me a long time to get it right, here is what I do: 8 whole cloves of garlic into a cup of decent oil but not necessarily xv (I'm seeing I wrote Progresso oil on the recipe but had to cross it out, wish it was still around!), saute til tan not brown, remove cloves and add some fresh parsley (and I add 2 anchovies too, then cook till they dissolve, a minute or two). Meanwhile I have my pasta water going and I add a dipperful into the oil. Yes it will splatter a bit so have a screen ready to cover at first. That's really it, I serve red pepper and parm at the table, and in laws also must have toasted bread crumbs to top.