Saturday, 13 October 2012

Broke-Ass Pasta (a.k.a. Aglio-Olio)

It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I get very very anxious if there is not a hefty stock of dry pasta in my pantry. Back in my broke musician days, I would not have survived very long without my best friends spaghetti, penne and macaroni, and there is now an irrational but deeply-rooted fear that I may starve to death if I have no pasta handy.

If you make sure to have a decent bottle of olive oil at all times, then the ingredients for this recipe cost less than $5, and yield four helpings. Ideal for hungry artists who wish to eat well without selling-out, and students with limited budgets!

I make this recipe from time to time, not out of financial worry, but simply because it’s simple, quick to make, and completely delicious. Ever had one of those evenings where you have no inspiration for dinner ideas, or no energy but a dire need to eat? This recipe is made for such evenings, and also from anyone recovering from an illness that upset their stomachs. Minimalist pasta dishes such as this one settles the tummy and gives you the calories and carbs your body needs to recover.

1 package dry linguine or spaghetti (stringy pasta work the best with this recipe, but any pasta you have in the pantry will do)
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

Chili flakes
Sea salt and ground pepper
1 handful fresh parsley, minced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Heat a large pan over medium heat and add the oil, garlic, a small pinch of chili flake, salt and freshly ground pepper. Sauté garlic for 2 minutes, until golden, then take off the heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, strain and drop it in the garlicky olive oil, turn the heat to medium and mix it up for a few minutes with the parsley.

Serve sprinkled with Parmesan and more black pepper.

If you like a nice crunch, add a handful of breadcrumbs as you toss your pasta in the oil. Minimalist and delicious. Garlic fiends will be especially enamored of this pasta dish, as you can make it subtle or screamingly garlicky as you want, depending on your mood or taste. Use Italian or flat-leaf parsley, which is more flavorful that regular curly parsley. It also makes for a lovely window-plant, so why not get some that you can grow at home? Tasty AND pretty!  

It's raining cash? Awesome! Add 1 cup of small or medium cooked shrimps and 2 or 3 finely chopped scallions to your garlic and oil. You have random leftovers you want to get rid of, like cooked sausages? No worries: throw them in the pan along with the pasta, that will give them just enough time to heat through.

If you love to cook, olive oil is something you should think of as an investment. 15 to 25 dollars for a bottle of extra-virgin, cold pressed olive oil is quite reasonable. Think about it the same way you'd think of a bottle of wine: would you drink $5 wine? Nah, me neither. And I wouldn't cook with ridiculously cheap olive oil, either. Getting the good stuff with make a huge difference in your dishes (and not just your salad dressings).

I've talked about the importance of not over-cooking pasta before, but it's a very important point that deserves to be repeated again. Al dente means you need to have a firm bite when you chew, but no crunch. Drain pasta as soon as they have the desired texture to stop the cooking, unless you are going to throw them in a sauce; in which case, leave them just a little bit harder because they will finish cooking in the sauce.

If you can afford it, a fruity white wine cleanses the palate beautifully after this garlicky feast! 

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