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Monday, November 01, 2010

Cooking Class

I have started a cooking column in the monthly magazine I write for in the States. The magazine is geared towards university students so I call the column Cooking 101—not very original but it gets the point across to the target demographic. I’m trying to teach them how to cook but also to keep their minds open when it comes to the kitchen. I hope this attitude will permeate other aspects of their thinking as well. I am keeping things very simple yet these dishs are the cornerstones of the culinary arts. 

I have had a couple of Italian roommates in my life and if I can extrapolate from these two people (and their friends I met) a general sense of what it’s like to be Italian I can say two things: Italians eat pasta at least twice a day and they almost all can whip up a really good plate of pasta with whatever ingredients they have on hand in the kitchen. This dish is one of the classics of Italian cooking and when done well it can be heaven.

Cooking 101: Spaghetti Aglio Olio

Don’t be intimidated by the Italian name which means spaghetti with garlic and oil; in Italy this dish is as basic and simple as ramen noodles are for American college students.  Something all Italian men can prepare and a favorite dish after returning home from the bars late at night—or more accurately, early in the morning—probably because the ingredients are almost always in the kitchen.

3 Garlic Cloves
Olive Oil
Red Pepper Flakes
Fresh Parsley (optional)

Boil the spaghetti in salted water. Pour the olive oil into a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Slice the garlic thinly and add to the heated oil along with a pinch of salt. I like to tilt the skillet so the oil pools to one end which ensures that the garlic does not burn. What you are trying to do above all is infuse the oil with the flavor of the garlic. After a minute, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and garlic. If you have fresh parsley add this last. When the spaghetti is cooked add it to the pan along with a bit of the pasta water and toss with the oil, garlic, and red pepper until the water has evaporated. Serve with a glass of red wine which is another thing Italians always have on hand, and so should you.

There is a lot of room for personal interpretation in spaghetti aglio olio: use a little or a lot of oil; add anchovies, parmesan cheese, sun dried tomatoes, you name it, but it’s best to err on the side of simplicity. Buon appetito (I think that’s right but I don’t speak Italian)!

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