On its own, pasta aglio e olio is deliciously simple: pasta + garlic + olive oil. Life doesn’t get much more pure than that.
But we are going to shake things up a bit, go beyond garlic and olive oil. This recipe takes that classic dish of pasta glistening with oil, loaded with caramelized garlic and swanks it up a bit with a toss of crushed red pepper + fresh parsley + (among other things) zippy lemon zest. Mediterranean confetti, if you will. We’re taking an age-old recipe for pasta aglio e olio and giving it a plot twist of our choosing. Hence Pasta Aglio e Olio: CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure). We are risk takers. We live life on the edge. We never settle! (Right?) So here we go. YOU are the protagonist…
- YOU make the choices.
- YOU take action.
- and YOU benefit from the
1. First, you have choices to make in the labyrinth in your search for the holy grail: Because there are so few ingredients, be sure you choose the highest quality oil, garlic, and pasta.
- Oil: I started with the most delicious olive oil I bought from Golden Isles Olive Oil while on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. Here is how the shop describes its Tuscan Herb Olive Oil: “a delicious blend of herbs, including oregano, rosemary, marjoram and garlic. Made with certified ultra premium, ultra fresh, extra virgin olive oil from our collection blended in small, artisan batches with 100% natural, organic compatible flavor.” Translation? Heaven in a bottle.
- Garlic: When shopping for quality garlic, look for organic. There has been an influx of garlic from overseas that has been sprayed with bleach and pesticides. How can you tell? Check the roots. Roots are a good indication that the garlic is locally sourced. Some foreign laws dictate that garlic bulb roots be removed; American farmers have no such regulation, so you often find domestic garlic with roots attached.
- You also want to choose a bulb that is compact, intact, plump. That means it should have a certain heaviness to it and no broken skin. I prefer heads with fewer yet bigger cloves because when a recipe tells me to use two cloves, I want to add it like I mean it! You are going to create such a deliciously garlic-infused oil that you will want to bathe in it. Or maybe that’s just me.
- Pasta: If fresh pasta is available, definitely go that route on your CYOA. Choose a pasta size that you like. It’s not an exact science, but size does matter. Depending on what you add to the dish will help you decide which size pasta to choose.
- Mediterranean Confetti: There is an entire slew of goodness to add on this Pasta Aglio e Olio adventure. Choose any or all of the following:
- fresh herbs (mint, parsley, basil)
- tomatoes (fresh, dried*)
- onions (green, red)
- olives, artichoke hearts
- cheese (feta, Parmesan–grated, shredded, shaved)
- red pepper flakes
- lemon zest
- greens (arugula, baby spinach)
- pine nuts
- proteins (dried meats such as pepperoni, prosciutto, pancetta; shrimp; chicken)
- good balsamic vinegar (I
drinkuse a phenomenally rich 18 year old balsamic from Golden Isles Olive Oil that is dense and complex)
2. Now that you have your supplies mise en place, you take action: The key to aglio e olio is low and slow.
- When heating your virgin oil, be cautious not to turn up too much heat. You do not want it to reach its smoke point (the temp at which the oil breaks down). Extra virgin olive oil smokes roughly at 160°C or 320°F.
- Slowly roast the garlic to perfect caramelization. Do not allow the garlic to brown; it will become intolerably bitter and you’ll need to start over. Just remember: low and slow.
- Add your ingredients gradually to layer the flavors instead of dumping them all at once. Too much turbulence can bruise your more delicate ingredients.
3. Your outcome: the holy grail: Two essential factors will draw you to this recipe: the burst of color and the explosion of flavor. We eat with our eyes, and this adventure takes optical appeal to a whole new level. The colors will mesmerize you. And the flavors? Just you wait! Pasta Aglio e Olio: CYOA is a lovely summertime dish—so light with the olive oil + so bright from lemon zest + so savory with the other Mediterranean confetti. So so so! Now you just have to decide to serve it hot or at room temp, today or tomorrow— whichever you prefer. The crux of this Pasta Aglio e Olio: CYOA is customizing it in the best way to satisfy YOUR taste. Remember: it is only the best if YOU think it is the best.
This Pasta Aglio e Olio: CYOA pairs beautifully with a sharp wine that can balance out the cheese, such as a fresh + citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. Or if you prefer red wine, look for a light + lively Chianti with lush flavors that complement your CYOA pasta. Or, there is always the option for pouring some bubbles.
If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, tag #nakedepicurean on Instagram and pin it to your favorite recipes board so we can celebrate together!
*My original plan was to use fresh grape tomatoes. Then I decided to oven dry them into chewy vermilion droplets of goodness for a nice little punch of flavor. A great idea, I must admit! The concentrated intensity of these beauties is a direct kiss on the lips. In the end I used fresh and dried. CYOA!
Buy dried tomatoes or make your own–halve them, salt them, and lay them on a cookie sheet. Roast for 60-90 minutes at 250 degrees.
Pasta Aglio e Olio: CYOA (for 4)
for the pasta
- 1 pound fresh pasta, such as angel hair or thin spaghetti
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
for the Mediterranean confetti (choose to use any or all of the following and their quantities)
- 12 ounces colorful grape tomatoes, halved, or ¼ cup dried tomatoes
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced, or ¼ of a red onion, chopped; divided
- 2-4 ounces block feta cheese, crumbled by hand, or ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 6-7 ounces marinated artichoke hearts, drained
- ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 1 lemon, zested
- 4-6 ounces protein of choice
- 2 ounces arugula or baby spinach
- 2 ounces pine nuts, toasted
- 1 cup fresh parsley, roughly torn
- 5-10 fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons (chiffonade)
- ¼ cup quality balsamic vinegar
- freshly cracked S&P
1. Salt a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Follow package instructions to cook pasta to al dente. (You can bring to a low boil if using fresh pasta, as it is more delicate.)
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat; add garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10-20 seconds, stirring regularly. Stir in tomatoes and half the onions. Cook over low heat until just warmed through, about 30 seconds or so.
3. When the pasta is ready, remove from heat. Reserve one cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pasta and pour it into a large serving bowl. Stir about half of the reserved cooking liquid (or more, if needed) into the garlic mixture and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour the mixture over the pasta. Add some of the cheese(s) and pepper and toss thoroughly. Add artichokes, olives, lemon zest, remaining onions and your choice of ingredients other than herbs and toss again. Serve in pasta bowls. Top with basil, parsley, and more cheese. Drizzle with vinegar.