There are certain dishes that just aren't worth messing with — and spaghetti aglio e olio is one of them. As with all of the best Italian recipes, this one is greater than the sum of its parts. Take a couple of basic ingredients from the pantry — dry spaghetti, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, red pepper flakes — and together they become one of the simplest yet most satisfying pasta dishes on the planet.
This is like buttered noodles for adults, with the added benefit of each bite whisking you away to a tiny trattoria in Rome.
Classic Spaghetti Aglio e Olio: Watch the Video
The Ultimate Pantry Pasta Hails from Italy
While the exact origin of spaghetti aglio e olio is murky, there's no doubt it hails from Italy. Some say the dish comes from Naples, while others say it originated in the Southeastern region of Abruzzo. Regardless, it's agreed upon that it's a peasant dish, created by poor farmers who had nothing but the most basic of Italian ingredients on hand.
The secret to transforming such basic ingredients lies in how you treat them. Instead of simply sautéing the garlic in olive oil, the garlic (and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes) is slowly warmed in the oil so that it flavors the oil without crisping and burning. When a few cups of starchy pasta water are added, the simple mixture transforms into a sauce. The water also helps mellow the bite of all that garlic.
Finished with another drizzle of olive oil (you'll want to use extra-virgin in this dish since the flavor of the oil is front and center) and chopped fresh parsley for brightness, it's Italian comfort food at its very best. Plus, it comes together quickly and you probably already have the ingredients on hand.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
Serves 4 to 6
Prep time: 5 minutes ; cooking time: 17 minutes to 19 minutes
extra-virgin olive oil, divided
cloves garlic, thinly sliced
red pepper flakes
coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 1 minute less than al dente, about 9 minutes or according to package instructions. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic just begins to turn light golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat if the pasta is not ready.
Add the pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the spaghetti and toss continuously until the sauce thickens and coats the pasta, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and toss to combine. Serve immediately, topping with plenty of grated cheese.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.