Garlic and oil
Garlic and oil is one of Italy’s most iconic dishes, prepared by penniless students after midnight, renewed chefs in fancy restaurants and hasty mothers coming home late from work. The ubiquity of the main ingredients, oil and garlic, together with the time to prepare– time to boil spaghetti, so under ten minutes – and the unforgettable savour keep it shining in the list of all-time best-loved Italian dishes. On top of that, it is the base on which creativity is often grafted, usually by adding ingredients.
Pasta G&O is simple in preparation as well as in ingredients and yet these are essentially the obstacles to a good result. There is no way in adjusting, you make it or you break it. The cook may be distracted –penniless half-drunk students after midnight often are-, in a hurry or simply it the mood to change a routine, and results therefor vary, maybe successfully, maybe viciously offensive.
New vs old
Well aware of new cooking techniques and utterly favourable to them, I will only describe the traditional ones, mainly out of ignorance. So if you can and want to prepare it in a microwave oven or with a kitchen robot, please do so. The result may as well be similar or even better. Just consider that the machine does what a cook does, but in an average way; an average to guarantee an acceptable result. The cook may be distracted –penniless half-drunk students after midnight often are-, in a hurry or simply it the mood to change a routine, and results therefor vary, maybe successfully, maybe viciously offensive.
Health on a plate
The ingredients are simple and healthy: while garlic has been attributed with so many healing qualities and preventive properties, its smell is used as to balance. A marginal side effect that is only perceivable by others who did not eat it. A rather harsh critic if looked from that perspective, isn’t it? Being bothered with the uneasiness of the olfaction and utterly indifferent about all the rest. Parsley seem to reduce the strong smell. Olive oil, you should know by now, is good for your health.
Use good olive oil. The better the quality, the better the result. Keep in mind that olive oil is one of the world’s most counterfeited products and good cheap olive does not exist. The average price, wholesale at the at the mill, for a litre in 2018 was five euros. Adding the cost of bottling, labelling, transport and distribution, one litre cannot cost less than ten euros. Try different oils as you’d try different wines and choose the one you like best.There is a wide variety of garlic. Use the garlic you find where you live. The garlic used in pasta G&O should not be cut up, and if, only in half.Naming G&O evokes memories in Italy, drunk nights, quick summer lunches on the seaside, managing to put something warm on the table, things that remain grifted in ones memories.
Remove the green sprout you find cutting the clove in two. It tends to be bitter and compromise the final result. Regarding pasta, best to use the long type, spaghetti for instance. Spaghetti is a kind of pasta that never lacks in an Italian panty, but if it does in yours, feel free to use another kind.
Serv G&O in an informal context; this does not mean it is a second rate dish. Naming G&O evokes memories in Italy, drunk nights, quick summer lunches on the seaside, managing to put something warm on the table, things that remain grifted in ones memories.
Start by boiling abundant water and add salt as soon as it boils. Add the pasta and start heating oil and garlic in a pan. When the garlic starts to release its fragrance, before it browns, add some of the water the pasta is boiling in; just enough to stop the garlic from frying.
When the pasta has boiled for ¾ of the indicated cooking time, transfer it to the pan. Do not waste the water the pasta boiled in. Add a cup of the water the pasta has boiled in and stir gently for two minutes. If the pasta gets dry, add more water. The result should be creamy.
Garlic&Oil for skilful adventurers
The term ‘risottare’ refers to the way ‘risotto’ is made: adding broth the rice, a ladle at the time, letting it absorb before adding more. By stirring the rice releases starch –you should start with appropriate rice such as Carnaroli or Roma – and gives the final result a creamy texture.
To prepare spaghetti this way you’ll need the appropriate pasta, so called bronze-cut pasta, coarse and usually more expensive type. The reason is the same as the one given for the rice.
Boil slightly salted water and keep it hot. Heat five table spoons of oil and two cloves of garlic. There are two school of thought: the first one uses two peeled cloves and takes them out as soon as they release fragrance. Others leave it in – there is even who cuts the garlic up.
Add two ladles of water before the garlic colours and your pasta (100 g per person, do not use more than 400 g, it complicates the preparation seriously). Stir and when most of the water is absorbed, add another ladle. Continue till the pasta is ready and al dente. How long does that take? It depends. The best advice is to try the pasta or break it in two and observer the inner part: if the colour is even or a small light dot appears in the centre, the pasta is cooked. Italians tend to eat it ‘al dente’ or slightly undercooked. It is up to you to decide. Plate the pasta and drizzle some oil on top
Variations on Garlic&Oil
A peculiarity of G&O is the readiness of the ingredients: they are supposed to be there, always, even in worst case scenarios. This excludes fresh or perishable product.
G&O Tuna – Tuna is one of the products that one can find in a pantry, even in the worst of days. Exquisite, simple and cheap. Drain the tuna from its oil and add it together with the garlic in the pan. The rest of the procedure is the same. People with ambition may add a drizzle of fish sauce.
G&O Peperoncino – As long as it is not powdered chili pepper sits divine in G&O. Some claim it is a vital part of it and decry those who leave it out. Add if fresh or dried to the garlic and oil. The rest of the procedure is the same.
G&O Lemon – There’s usually a shrivelled lemon hiding in the fridge. Squeeze it and add it to the garlic and oil. If by chance you find yourself a handsome lemon you may add some of its zest. The rest of the procedure is the same.
G&O Bottarga – Bottarga, dried roe of mullet or tuna, is a product that can be kept for ages. It comes a small loaf or already grated. When you use the powdered form, add it before serving, as a topping. If you are a connoisseur and keep a loaf you purchased on that unforgettable journey in Sicily, grate some in the pan before adding the pasta and some more before serving.
G&O Cheese – The term cheese is a trifle vague. It should be hard, dried and grated. Added before serving. Know that in Italy cheese and fish exclude one another.
G&O Parsley – Parsley is everywhere. Or it used to be. Italians use the flat leaved version. Its taste is less prominent than the curly leaved variety.
G&O Whatever – On the spur of the moment virtually anything can go in. Half an orange, a left over boiled cauliflower cut in chunks, anchovies, you name it.
A word of advice
This dish contains garlic; in northern Europe and the USA this may disturb people. The fear of having a garlic breath is rooted and justified. One of the worst thirty minutes in my life have a middle-aged Italian man, a beautiful painting and garlic as central themes. I ended up paying far too much just to get rid of the infernal smell and solemnly swore I’d eat garlic every day. Not out of revenge, but simply because the only way of not smelling someone else’s garlic breath is eating garlic yourself.