Jul 142013

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for aglio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Italy, 0.

Alio e olio

Aglio E Olio With Tomatoes
Inspired by my friend Kyla
Serves 4


  • Tradition dictates the use of spaghetti for this dish, but the addition of tomatoes demands a shorter pasta that can grab on to them.
  • I really, really like garlic. You might want to reduce the amount used here if you’re not also a fiend for this allium.

You will need:

  • Several quarts of water
  • 8 ounces short pasta (whole-wheat, if you like), such as fusilli or penne
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 20-24 ounces of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and finely minced or put through a press

To prepare:

  1. In a saucepan at least four quarts large, bring the water to a boil. Salt the water if you like your pasta that way and then cook the pasta until al dente, a minute or two shorter than indicated on the package.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet or large saute pan. When the oil is shimmery and runny, add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are well broken-down. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. If the pasta isn’t done yet, remove the tomato mixture from the heat until it is.
  3. When the pasta tests done, reserve about 1/2-cup of the cooking liquid in a measuring cup, then drain the pasta. Pour the pasta into the tomato mixture (or vice-versa if your skillet isn’t large enough) and mix well. Add a bit of the reserved pasta-water if you think it looks a little too thick. Serve immediately.

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