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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.

                        1. Fried garlic tastes better when it definitely has some color. Not pale straw, but golden in the middle and brown-ish along the edges. Not burnt black. Brown. Use as much as You like.
                          Anchovies enhance the flavor of the garlic.
                          Chopped parsley does nothing for this very simple dish.
                          Crushed red pepper flakes can be added at the beginning of the garlic frying stage - or - at the end - or - on top of the pile of pasta on the plate and mixed in as you eat.
                          No cheese.
                          It's all about the garlic and the oil.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Gio

                            I've only done the aglio olio thing once or twice, but to me, the secret to awesome garlic oil is long and slow. Doesn't matter whether you slice, dice, or use whole cloves, but you have to cook it forever. I completely cover the garlic in oil, bring it up to a sizzle, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and let it go for several hours. It should smell so good that you want to drink it out of the skillet.

                          2. I'm not an expert, but I make this dish quite often and use only EVOO, garlic (lots and lots) and of course spaghetti.

                            After reading the posts, I'm now wondering if anchovies are traditionally part of the prep for Aglio e Olio?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Actually, adding anchovies makes it a slightly different dish and I think it has another name, but I can't remember what it is called. It is something that my mother and grandmother made frequently, but my son is not a huge anchovy fan, so I tend not to add them to this dish since the anchovy flavor should be fairly assertive. In the case of adding anchovies, I definitely would not use cheese with this, which I actually don't do anyway.

                            2. I'll take a guess and say restaurants are probably using more oil and salt than you. They care about repeat business, not your health. NTTAWWT.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Angela Roberta

                                That was my first thought!

                                I was shocked when I saw a real (from Italy) cook/restaurant owner aquaintance of ours use a handful of salt in his pasta water.

                              2. I order this at a restaurant nearby. I've tried cooking it countless times, following every sort of tip and recipe I could find on the internet, and it never comes anywhere close to how it tastes in the restaurant.
                                What I notice about how it tastes in the restaurant is that the garlic even tastes a bit different, like a sweet and almost roasted flavor. Mine always comes out tasting a bit bitter. One of the biggest issues I've had as well is making the oil itself actually TASTE like the garlic! I've tried slow cooking it, using a ridiculous amount of garlic, and many other things, but it usually ends up tasting like olive oil with a hint of garlic flavor. In the restaurant, the oil tastes very strongly of that rich garlic (almost roasted) flavor.

                                If anyone has any tips, they would be appreciated.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: nwells

                                  They could be using a garlic infuesed oil along with garlic .. Also garlic is never the exact same taste

                                  I am not sure how true this is , but a old tip from a cook (not chef lol ).. put garlic in at the end of the cooking process to add a more garlicly flavor.. cooking the garlic the whole time gives a hint of garlic ...

                                  1. re: nwells

                                    I make "garlic confit" pretty regularly - basically I just simmer whole cloves of garlic in oil until they're soft and lightly caramelized. The leftover oil obviously has lots of sweet roasted garlic flavor, and it definitely gives this type of dish an extra garlic kick. As for the fresh garlic used to make the dish, I chop mine finely and add it to cold oil in a skillet over very low heat and let it very very slowly cook - this brings out the sweet nutty flavors as opposed to the stronger bitter flavors of garlic. It probably takes 30 mins or more to get it lightly browned, but there is never a hint of bitterness. Either or both of those methods should help you get more of the sweet roasty flavor you're looking for.

                                    1. re: biondanonima


                                      You've got to slow cook it AND use a ridiculous amount of garlic. I peel and smash several whole bulbs of garlic, cover completely in oil, bring to a sizzle then turn down to the lowest burner setting and cook for 30 minutes or more. The resulting oil is very, very garlicky and really delicious. Lasts pretty much forever, but make sure to refrigerate or freeze.

                                  2. It's not the traditional recipe but I like Matha Stewart's Three Garlic Pasta Recipe. The three types of Garlic being Roasted, Toasted (slices fried in oil until golden) and Chopped (sauteed in oil).


                                    1. I agree with a lot of the comments here.

                                      The way I prepare it:

                                      Pour a generous amount of olive oil in a pan and drop in about 4-5 large cloves of garlic that have been crushed, not chopped or sliced, just barely split open. Let the oil heat up with the garlic in it. It'll help infuse the garlic essence into the oil. When the garlic is soft and begins to get golden, remove them from the oil and toss in a fresh hot chile or a good pinch of dried/crushed chile and a couple spoons of the hot boiling, heavily salted pasta water (I put close to a cup of salt in...cause if you can't taste it, you didn't put enough!). Let the water simmer a bit and reduce a bit which adds more saltiness to the dish. Toss in your spaghetti wet, and finish with some fresh chopped parsley, stir it up, remove from heat, and then drizzle a little raw olive oil over it.

                                      1. I have this tiny garlic mandoline which allows me to thinly slice the garlic--think razor blade in Good Fellas--and I use half a dozen cloves for two. It gets sauteed slowly until golden at which point the pasta should be ready to throw in. Add other things as is your preference. Those slices of garlic will be nutty and almost dissolve. Lovely

                                        1. I think the keys are:

                                          1) Use lots of olive oil.
                                          2) Use lots of garlic. You can slice thinly; you can mince; you can crush. It all works. I usually chop finely, not quite to a mince.
                                          3) Sautee the garlic slowly. One of the most important things I've learned from Marcella Hazan is to put oil and garlic into a cold pan and bring them up to heat together. The pan should be just hot enough so that the garlic audibly sautes. Saute slowly until deep golden but not brown. I usually saute some crumbled dried red pepper along with the garlic.
                                          4) Throw in finely chopped parsley at the end.
                                          5) Salt!

                                          1. You need a little raw minced garlic toward the end to amp up the garlic flavor.

                                            1. Throwing in half of a tablespoon of butter when you are finishing the dish in the skillet helps I find.

                                              I also like to throw in some basil while I am infusing the OO with with garlic and then strain it out, but that definitely changes the dish some.

                                              1. What a marvelous thread.

                                                I just wanted to second the addition of pasta water if the pasta is too dry at the end. It's easy to think you should just keep adding oil, but that makes the pasta greasy and does not thicken as well. Adding pasta water makes ALL pasta recipes better.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: IndyGirl

                                                  Two very important steps (so, far not mentioned here) that can elevate this simple dish. I always split the garlic cloves to remove the sometimes bitter 'germ'. Even if I'm making this for just myself, the germ always gets removed before the slicing. The other step is to hold back a bit of the virgin olive oil during the browning. When garlic is right where you need it to be, remove pan from the flame and add the final TBS of oil. It will lower the temp enough to prevent burning. And, this needs a lot of flat parsley, coarsely chopped, stems removed. Enjoy!

                                                  1. re: IndyGirl

                                                    i often wish that CH had a LIKE feature as on facebook! LIKE LIKE LIKE!

                                                    1. re: smilingal

                                                      OMG, I was reading through this thread and thought the same thing. I wish we had a LIKE feature. Funny.

                                                  2. love all the suggestions. alla olio is DS' fave.

                                                    I can only add, pasta cooking water ~~ I throw in a palmful of coarse kosher salt and every time I do I hear Rachel Ray saying " it is your only chance to salt the pasta"

                                                    I also add a couple of cloves of garlic to the pasta water when I add the pasta.

                                                    I mix in tiny petite peas at the end and serve the dish at room temp for al fresco meals in the park or at a bbq. People choose it over mac or potato salad every time.

                                                    1. I'm sure I'll get crucified for asking this, but do you think this would still work with whole wheat pasta?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. Toast bread crumbs. Add to final pasta. +100 points