Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

A technique article on for preparing spaghetti aglio e olio prompted me the other night to prepare it for a late-night supper.

I’ve made this dish numerous times, but the article included an interesting video that demonstrated a technique for “finishing the pasta the right way” that made me rethink my own. What struck me most in the video was the cook’s rapidly swirling and tossing of the pasta in the sauce after adding the pasta water, which resulted in a beautiful emulsion.

When I prepared my version, I didn’t add as much water as was used in the video. In fact, I followed the direction of the article’s recipe, which called for just “a few tablespoons” of water.

I must say that focusing on the emulsification of pasta water and oil really made a difference and resulted in a creamier sauce.

I always add the garlic and peperoncino to the pan before heating. You’ll also see a splash of balsamic vinegar, which adds a nice touch of acidity to the final dish.

Beginning in a cold pan

I simmer the sauce over a low flame for at least 10 minutes to extract as much flavor from the garlic without coloring it too much.

Sauce waiting for the pasta

I should have taken a photo of swirling the pasta, but settled for a close-up of it plated.



This is one pasta that, in my opinion, is best on its own, without cheese.

Wine Pairing: Gavi di Gavi, Sauvignon Blanc, Processo


4 thoughts on “Musing: Finishing Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

  1. A great lesson, I had to go and watch the video, which was very interesting. I’ve made spaghetti aglio e olio many times, but never with what looked to be a cup of pasta water. Which is twice what the recipe below the video called for and much more than I use. Next cook, I’m going to watch my salt in the pasta water and add a cup and see how it comes out. Also, your balsamic addition is a great idea and one I’ll try as well. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Adding the cooking water became a ‘trend’ about 20 years ago, I’d say. Not sure who started it but it was not the norm back in the day. What did seem to make a lot of logical sense was to finish off the pasta in the sauce rather than draining the pasta in a colander and then adding the sauce in the serving dish. Spaghetti ajo e ojo (a ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’ in Italian) was supposed to be the quickest and easiest pasta to prepare (except maybe for butter and grated parmesan), the kind of pasta you’d made after a long night out before going to bed, or a quick lunch. And so to me, old school, the idea of finishing it of with the cooking water is a bit like painting the lily; do we really have to, sigh? That said, I too have succumbed to this technique and my husband noticed (always a good indication). Another little baby tip that you might enjoy: you can cook the garlic in a very small pan and then transfer it to the larger one. This way you have more control over how it cooks and prevent it from browning. Lots of peperoncino and lots of finely choped parsley are its crowning glory.

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