You might as well tattoo K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) across my forehead. It’s not that I wanted to make things complicated, but after many years in the Gourmet magazine test kitchen, paring down and getting simple wasn’t as easy as you might think. With every possible herb, spice, and condiment at your fingertips and that constant pressure to BE CREATIVE, it was almost impossible not to add a pinch of this or dash of that to inject something new into your recipes.
Cooking at home—in my case, a tiny galley kitchen in my rental apartment—for my family forced me to figure out a way to chill out and get real. Take spaghetti aglio e olio, probably the simplest Italian pasta dish ever. It’s all of five ingredients: spaghetti, garlic, oil, parsley, and hot pepper flakes. In my quest for perfection at work, I managed to complicate it by cooking the garlic separately from the pepper flakes (didn’t want the flakes to burn before the garlic was golden) and then tossing the garlic and oil in stages with the pasta.
It took a hassled evening involving pelting rain and a broken stroller for me to give up and get simple, finally. And now you can keep it simple, too, with my favorite recipe template for spaghetti with garlic and oil.
- Bring a big pot of salty water to a boil (cover the pot to speed it along; the water should taste as salty as the sea).
- Meanwhile, peel the cloves from 2 heads of garlic (stick to the big and medium cloves) and thinly slice them lengthwise; you want to end up with 1 cup of garlic slices.
- Cook the garlic with a rounded 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes in 1/2 cup olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns pale golden. Slide the skillet off the heat. (The garlic will continue to cook to golden in the hot oil).
- Stir 1 pound spaghetti into the boiling water and boil, stirring a couple of times, until it’s al dente.
- While it’s boiling, chop 1/2 cup of parsley.
- Position the big pasta bowl right next to the pot. Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti to the bowl, allowing the water clinging to the noodles to drip into the bowl.
- Dump the garlic and oil over the pasta, scraping up every delicious bit from the skillet, and shower with parsley.
- Drizzle the pasta with a little fresh olive oil.
- If desired, top with freshly grated Parmigiano.