Italians are a passionate people, especially when it comes to food. They boast of their fresh and quality ingredients – fragrant basil, juicy tomatoes, earthy olive oil and creamy mozzarella – that help to create simple but sublime meals. Cooking Italian food is an art and Italians rely on flavorful ingredients to create their dishes. Each region features their specialty dishes – abundant fish and seafood in Veneto, pecorino cheese and chianti wine in Tuscany, Roman artichokes in Rome and pizza with mozzarella di bufala from Naples.
As I’m cooking in my kitchen today, the smell of garlic and parsley waft over and up into my nostrils and wish that I was back in Italy. I crave the simplicity of Italian food. As we would walk down the cobblestone roads in Florence and Rome, flavours of roasted tomatoes, fresh pasta and garlic floated onto the streets from the nearby restaurants. We were excited to explore the foods of each region, and we did just that. We paired chianti wines with pecorino cheese, sopped up olive oil with warm crusty bread, ate garlicky shrimp with grilled whole fish and zucchini flowers stuffed with baccala. And a trip to Italy can’t go without a mention to the endless selection of gelato that caused my pants to fit a little too tight – worth it! My favourite dish was so simple though. All it took to make me happy was a hot plate of spaghetti aglio e olio – pasta tossed with garlic and olive oil, topped with fresh parsley and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and if I was lucky, chilli flakes.
Spaghetti aglio e olio is the embodiment of fresh and simple ingredients coming together to create a flavourful and heavenly pasta dish. A quality extra virgin olive oil is required to give the base of this dish an earthy and fragrant flavour and don’t forget to top the pasta with parsley and freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. And this pasta dish is practically BEGGING for crusty bread on the side to soak up all the leftover garlic and olive oil. Add chicken or garlic-sauteed shrimp (which I did) to make this dish even more satisfying and addictive. . I apologize in advance.
- For the pasta:
- 1 box (500g) of spagetti
- ½ cup of quality extra virgin olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp chilli flakes (less or more to taste)
- ⅓ cup of chopped parsley + 1 tbsp for garnish
- salt and pepper to taste
- Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese
- For the garlic shrimp:
- 10 raw shrimp, de-veined and shelled
- 2 tbsp butter, cut in pieces
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp chilli flakes (if you like the heat)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add in the spaghetti. Cook according to package directions until pasta is al dente . Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan and add in the minced garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until garlic starts turning golden. Add in chilli flakes and cook for another 30 seconds. Drain the pasta and toss with the olive oil and garlic mixture as well as the chopped parsley to coat the spaghetti. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
- For the shrimp, preheat the oven to 400F. Place raw shrimp in a baking dish, top with olive oil, butter pieces, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and chilli flakes. Bake, covered, in the oven until shrimp become pink and opaque. Remove from heat.
- Plate the pasta and top with the cooked shrimp. Garnish with chopped parsley and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve!