Many of the best pasta sauces can be made in the time it takes to cook the pasta, so to be able to prep, cook, and wash up by the time it reaches al dente is something extra special. Spaghetti with garlic and olive oil is exactly what it sounds like, but this incredibly simple dish is more than the sum of its parts.
Still, that's no reason to skimp on the parts. When you're cooking with so few ingredients every individual component counts. The pasta should be a good quality dried durum wheat flour variety, and as for size I prefer the slightly thinner size (not spaghettini though — this would be fine, but I like the heartier texture of spaghetti). It always helps to salt your pasta cooking water, and this is a particularly important example. The final taste of this dish is as much the pasta itself as it is the sauce, so give your pasta all the help it can get.
The garlic and parsley should both be fresh, but beyond that most farmer's market garlic/parsley is much of a muchness. Slicing it thinly and cooking it slowly will take much of the edge off the garlic, giving you the tasty flavour but hardly any garlic breath.
Although I finish with the best quality extra virgin olive oil I can afford, to cook the garlic initially I simply use a good quality regular olive oil. Correct me if I'm wrong, but since I'm heating away many of the subtleties, I don't really see the point in using expensive oil for what is basically heat transfer. On that note, don't use too much oil. Sometimes when this (extremely margin-friendly) dish is served in restaurants you're left with a pool of oil at the bottom of the bowl. The oil should coat the pasta and nothing more, leaving the bowl more or less dry once you're finished.
Spaghetti with garlic & olive oil
Ingredients (serves 1, scales easily):
- 90g dried spaghetti
- 1 garlic clove, sliced very thinly
- 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 an anchovy fillet
- 1 tbsp good quality olive oil
- 2 tsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
- Cracked white pepper
1. Boil the pasta until just al dente in salted water while you cook the sauce.
2. Combine the garlic and regular olive oil in a pan and cook over a low heat for 3 minutes. Add the parsley about half-way through and continue to cook slowly for 3 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't brown. Turn off the heat and add the anchovy, mashing with the back of a fork to dissolve it.
3. Once cooked, drain the pasta and toss in the pan with the sauce, extra-virgin olive oil, plenty of cracked pepper, and 1-2 tbsp of reserved pasta cooking water. Serve immediately.