Many of Italy’s most loved traditional dishes come from the simplest of backgrounds. That is certainly the case for spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (spaghetti pasta with garlic, oil and red pepper flakes). Incredibly, these three simple ingredients combine to make one of the most delicious dishes that the average Italian family can whip up for dinner in about 20 minutes.
This dish was invented in Naples, the city of pizza, and is really about as simple as it gets. Keep reading for our easy and delicious recipe that garlic lovers are going to flip for! Some good extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and red chili peppers or flakes is virtually all you will need to prepare this classic Italian dish.
What kitchen equipment and utensils are needed to make spaghetti aglio e olio?
This pasta aglio e olio dish doesn’t need much in the way of kitchen equipment, but these are the few things you will need to have on hand to be able to create this recipe that is perfect for those who love garlic and spiciness!
optional: a garlic press or garlic crusher if you don’t want your hands to smell like garlic
a pasta colander or drainer
All about the essential ingredients of pasta aglio e olio recipe
Extra virgin olive oil(8 tbsp) – This is one of those recipes where you will want to get out your favorite extra virgin olive oil.
Garlic (3 cloves) – this is the main ingredient so be sure you use garlic that is fresh and if you plan to leave it in the sauce you will need to lightly crush or mince it, we recommend using a garlic crusher.
Dried red pepper flakes(½-1 tbsp) – you can use any kind of red pepper you prefer, from fresh red peppers seeded and chopped, to crushed red pepper flakes and even red pepper powder if that is your preference. You can even leave the red pepper out all together if you don’t like spicy foods or substitute it with a very mild pepper that you do like. In Italy, Calabrian chili peppers are known as the best and hottest around, so if you can get your hands on those we highly recommend them. In Naples, you can often find dried red peppers woven into wreaths or hanging bunches, similar to how garlic is traditionally stored here, which can simply be broken off and used one at a time.
Dry spaghetti pasta(500 gr | 1.1 lbs) – a package of dry long pasta (spaghetti or linguine are the top two) is the norm for this recipe.
Parsley (1 tbsp) – finely or coarsely chopped, depending on your preference.
Salt(1 pinch) – you will need both coarse salt for adding to the pasta water and fine salt for the sauce. We happen to prefer sea salt, but you can use whatever you have in your cupboard.
Step-by-step how to make pasta aglio e olio recipe
Fill a large pot to 3/4 with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add coarse salt to the water and then the pasta noodles. photo 1 and 2
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is glistening, add the garlic and red pepper flakes. photo 3
Cook the pasta until it is al dente (use the time indicated on the pasta box or bag instructions).
Very important step: remove the garlic cloves once they begin to turn light brown/golden. If you have decided to mince the garlic and leave it in the sauce for an even stronger garlic flavor, then remove the pan from the heat entirely so the garlic doesn’t get overcooked or burned.
Stir in the chopped parsley and a dash of salt to taste and then remove from heat (if you didn’t in the previous step). photo 5
Set aside a small amount of starchy water from the pasta before you drain the pasta using a pasta strainer in the sink.
Now add the pasta to the large pan with the aglio e olio ingredients, and toss the pasta with the sauce until it’s evenly coated. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta water. photo 5 and 6
Transfer your finished spaghetti aglio e olio e peperoncino to a serving dish and serve immediately.
If desired, in the serving dish you can add another dash of fresh chopped parsley or grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (both are totally optional) and enjoy!
Don’t overcook the garlic in your pasta aglio e olio sauce, because it will give the sauce a very bitter, unpleasant flavor. In a garlic sauce with very few other ingredients, cooking the garlic to perfection is the key to a delicious cooked pasta dish. As soon as the garlic starts to turn a golden brown, you will need to remove it. If your garlic turns dark brown it is usually too late and you might consider tossing the oil and garlic and starting over.
Without red pepper flakes: The simplest variation of this dish comes from just omitting one of the ingredients, the crushed red pepper flakes, to make an even simpler spaghetti aglio e olio. You will dress your spaghetti in a very basic garlicky oil and enjoy. If you do decide to leave out the red pepper flakes, we recommend adding an extra dash of parsley or considering adding a generous sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top of the finished dish.
With breadcrumbs: Another variation which is not traditional, but is in line with the concept of this being a simple dish, is to add breadcrumbs when you toss the pasta and oil. In this case breadcrumbs are toasted and then tossed with the dish to give a bit of nutty flavor and more texture.
Other variations: As this is an Italian recipe that has been around for centuries, many other additions have been made over the years by experimenting home cooks. If you want to try something a bit different you can add finely chopped cherry tomatoes, anchovies or cheese.
How do I store any leftover pasta aglio e olio and for how long?
You can store pasta aglio e olio in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. We do not recommend freezing leftovers because cooked pasta does not tend to defrost well.
Can spaghetti aglio e olio be reheated?
Yes, reheating spaghetti aglio e olio is possible, although of course it might not taste quite as good as it did the first day. Remove the pasta from the fridge 30 minutes prior to reheating. In a large saucepan, heat up a few tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the spaghetti aglio e olio along with a few tablespoons of water and cook over medium heat for several minutes or until hot. Consider sprinkling with fresh parsley, a dash or red pepper flakes or cheese to brighten up this family-loved dish.
What is the best wine to pair with pasta aglio e olio?
This is a very simple mouth-watering dish with a bit of heat so light fruity white wines like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc are great choices. Falanghina is a local white wine that is a perfect match if you can find it, as many of the simple Neapolitan dishes tend to go best with a local wine from the same region of Italy.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
This is a dish where the simplicity is a huge part of the appeal and there really isn’t a need to try and make it fancy, just enjoy a nearly effortless dinner prep and then sit down and enjoy.
3garlic clovescrushed or minced if you are going to leave in the sauce for an extra garlicky flavor
½-1tablespoondried red pepper flakesor ½-1 fresh red pepper, seeded and chopped. Calabrian chili is best.
500gdry spaghetti pasta
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes once it is slightly glistening.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, then add coarse salt. This water is for cooking the spaghetti pasta.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente (you can follow the instructions on the back of the bag or box so that the pasta is cooked to perfection). Set aside some pasta water in case you need to use it later.
Remove the garlic cloves once they begin to turn lightly golden. If you have decided to mince the garlic and leave it in the sauce for an even stronger garlic flavor, then you need to turn off the oil so it does not burn, see our expert tips above for more information on this.
Stir in the chopped parsley and a little salt and remove from heat if you haven't already.
Drain the pasta, add it to the frying pan with the aglio e olio sauce and toss with the sauce until the pasta is evenly coated. You can add some of the reserved pasta water back in if the pasta is too dry.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.
Extra step if desired: You can sprinkle the dish with additional parsley or grated Parmesan cheese (totally optional) and enjoy!