Today I'm sharing a recipe for one of the dishes I refer to as a "flex food." Meaning that once you know the basics of the fundamental dish, it is extremely flexible, so you can change up the flavor or add whatever you happen to have on hand.
This is probably one of the fastest and easiest dishes I make at home. You'll find it listed on an Italian menu as Aglio e Olio (AH-glee-oh ee OH-lee oh), which literally translates to "garlic and oil," but my Americanized familiy refers to it as something that sounds more like "Olly Oy." Growing up, my mom would make this any night of the week she didn't feel like going grocery shopping. We always had the fundamental ingredients (spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, and cheese) on hand in the kitchen. Here's how you make our family's version of the classic:
T H E F U N D A M E N T A L
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup good olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
While cooking the spaghetti, heat the garlic cloves in the oil over medium-high heat until fragrant and golden. Add salt and pepper and remove the garlic cloves. When spaghetti is finished cooking, drain and toss with the olive oil. Stir in cheese and serve immediately.
That's it! So simple, but packed with flavor. So now that you know the fundamentals, here are some examples of how flexible you can be with the dish. I encourage you to play with it and come up with your own creative spins (and feel free to share in the comments)!
T H E F L E X
For a more traditional version :: instead of smashed garlic, use 2-3 minced cloves and leave them in the oil. Add red pepper flakes to the oil as it heats and toss with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of the Pecorino Romano.
For a citrus spin :: after heating the garlic, add the juice of one lemon to the oil. Toss with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Use your garden's fresh herbs :: When you stir in the cheese, add your favorite chopped fresh herb - I like oregano, parsley or basil.
Kick up the nutrition :: Use a whole wheat pasta and add some vegetables. Those commonly found in Italian recipes work especially well. Try sauteed spinach, broccoli, broccoli rabe, or zucchini.
Make it Caprese-style :: Toss with chopped fresh tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzerella cheese for a spin on the traditional Caprese salad.