Tales from an Ital­ian kitchen

Rachel Roddy

The Guardian - Feast - - Rachel Roddy -

Mid­night spaghetti

At the risk of ped­dling cliches, it seems that mak­ing and eat­ing spaghetti aglio, olio e peper­on­cino is

sec­ond na­ture to most Ital­ians.

Ev­ery­one seems to nod in agree­ment about this clas­sic, thrifty (and very good) com­bi­na­tion of four in­gre­di­ents: spaghetti, aglio (gar­lic), olio (oil) and peper­on­cino (chilli) – which can be five if you choose to in­clude prezze­molo (pars­ley), and six if you count the salt.

Cheap, quick, gen­er­ous and on the ta­ble in 15 min­utes, ajo ojo – as they call it in Rome – is a con­stant in many lives: the an­swer to quick lunches and pit-stop din­ners, and the full-stop to many boozy nights out – hence the name gli spaghetti

di mez­zan­otte (mid­night pasta). It is a dish many love like an old friend who, re­gard­less of time, fash­ion, fads and the weather, just is.

I’ve prob­a­bly watched ajo ojo be­ing made more than any other pasta dish over the years, and in so many kitchens, watched the fa­mil­iar se­quence of steam­ing pans, bun­dles of spaghetti, streams of olive oil, and flecks of white, red and green – which, rather pa­tri­ot­i­cally, echo the colours of the Ital­ian flag. I’ve not only grown ac­cus­tomed to it, but be­come quite de­pen­dent on it.

It is a recipe that man­ages to be both very spe­cific – just spaghetti, gar­lic, oil and chilli – and ab­so­lutely non-spe­cific, a broad-sweep­ing brush­stroke, an idea rather than a recipe.

You sim­ply siz­zle as much gar­lic as you like (for me, that’s a clove per per­son, sliced thinly), in as much olive oil as you fancy (bear­ing in mind it is the heart of the dish – so let’s say 30ml per per­son, but 50ml if you are mak­ing a sin­gle portion). Add chopped peper­on­cino to taste (only you know how hot you like your chill­ies), be­fore adding as much al dente spaghetti as you feel like, then fin­ish with a hand­ful of chopped pars­ley. In the past I have also added an­chovies, and added a top­ping of pecorino (both of which, you could ar­gue, turn the dish into some­thing else).

This last week, though, ask­ing peo­ple about mid­night spaghetti re­vealed end­less per­sonal pref­er­ences, but I was glad to be re­minded of two things in par­tic­u­lar.

One is about the gar­lic, which – whether whole but crushed for a gen­tle flavour, sliced for a stronger one, or chopped for the fiercest flavour – should siz­zle gen­tly. It should just shimmy in the oil: you don’t want it to colour or burn, or it be­comes a bit­ter bully; you want it only to soften and re­lease its scent.

The other tip was from a friend called Amos, a man all too fa­mil­iar with mid­night pasta. While the spaghetti is boil­ing in well-salted water, add a ladle­ful of cook­ing liq­uid and a proper pinch of salt to the gar­lic oil, swirling and slosh­ing it with a spoon be­fore you tip in the spaghetti, then swish it around again. These two steps mean the oil is sea­soned and the starch from the pasta and oil comes to­gether into a cream-like con­sis­tency, which means the spaghetti, slippy and glis­ten­ing, al­most winds it­self around the fork.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.