Who gets credit for creating the classic ‘aglio olio’? (March 23, 2011)

By Lois Rogers

Simple, direct and satisfying, aglio olio – spaghetti with olive oil and garlic – has tempted palates and warmed hungry stomachs for centuries.

It’s so good in fact, that Romans and Neapolitans argue about who invented the dish. My dad – whose ancestors hailed from Teora – a small town in the Avellino province northeast of Naples – always claimed it for Naples.

The origin of the dish never mattered to us kids. Whenever dad got the desire to set slices of garlic gently cooking in a swirl of extra virgin olive oil, we rejoiced.

We knew that “alya ul” – that’s what it sounded like to us, was just minutes away from the table. It mattered not who invented it.

Frequently the dish turned up during Lent, but back then all Fridays were meatless so it made appearances throughout the year.

It’s said that the success of this oh so simple dish depends upon the quality of the ingredients and I believe that is so. Times were tough when we were growing up and mom and dad scrimped on a lot of things but not food.

Thus the olive oil was always rich, green and flavorful. The garlic was fresh and the grated cheese that topped the pasta was always Pecorrino Romano.

Though the basic recipe calls only for extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves and spaghetti noodles, Dad often spiced it up – sometimes with chips of hot, red pepper – sometimes with a can of minced clams and their liquor – sometimes with slivers of black olives, mushrooms and anchovies.

It’s so friendly and flexible that you can let your imagination (and the ingredients in your pantry) run free.

I like to serve aglio olio with a salad of romaine lettuce, extra virgin olive oil, lemon a dusting of Pecorrino Romano, and healthy chunks of Italian bread.

Spaghetti With Garlic and Olive Oil
Serves 6

  • ½ cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves peeled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped Italian parsley (optional)
  • 1¼ lbs. dry spaghetti noodles
  • 3 tbsp salt for water
  • additional salt and black pepper to taste

Bring three to four quarts of water and the salt to a rapid boil in a large pot. Add the pasta to the pot, stir to distribute the noodles and follow the directions on the box. When the pasta is cooked, drain it.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir frequently. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the garlic turns slightly golden. Remove the garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon. Add the pasta to the skillet and then sprinkle the parsley, pepper and salt over it. Toss the pasta several times and dust well with Pecorrino Romano cheese.

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