Sunday, February 27, 2011

Simple Food: Pasta Aglio e Olio

This is off topic, I realize... but I just have to say that pasta aglio e olio - pasta with garlic and olive oil - is one of the best dishes ever invented. Last night I found myself cooking it, and then eating it, while ruminating on the way that simple dishes can be so profoundly satisfying in a way that complex and elaborate meals often aren't.

Part of the exquisite beauty of such simple, classic dishes is that they leave no room for the cook to hide mistakes. For example, pasta aglio e olio has just seven ingredients: pasta, garlic, olive oil, grated parmesean cheese, chopped parsley, salt, and chili peppers. As a result, there's a type of purity to it; each flavor maintains its own identity and is strong, distinct, and with an irreplaceable role to play. The dish would be diminshed if any of those seven ingredients were missing, or prepared incorrectly. It requires a deft touch to sauté the garlic just right, for example. Overcook the garlic and the dish becomes bitter. Undercook it and the garlic will overpower everything else. But get it just right, and it creates a magical, savory oil that clings to each strand of pasta. The chili is necessary to give the dish some punch and sharpness. The parsley is crucial to freshen and enliven it. Coarse salt provides a bit of texture as well as being absolutely essential to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients. And the cheese rounds it out and helps to bind the flavors together. When correctly prepared, in each bite you can taste each of the seven ingredients. Perfection.

And then of course, one has to recognize that it's simply a beautiful dish, as well...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:44 AM

    you forgot the butter which gives this wonderfull dish a great body to it