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When it comes to pasta, sometimes simpler is better

By Norma Olizon-Chikiamco, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 10, 2022 7:47 am

When it comes to pasta, sometimes the simplest recipe can be the most alluring. That’s exactly what I discovered when I tried Lidia Bastianich’s Spaghettini Aglio Olio. Needing only eight ingredients (one of which is optional), this pasta recipe is a cinch to prepare — and is especially useful in this season of Lent, when abstinence from meat is expected of Catholics every Friday.

I discovered Lidia’s recipe on the Internet, while searching for pasta that didn’t need tomato sauce, cream, cheese or milk. I wanted a recipe suitable for the lactose intolerant (my husband) and those with acid reflux (me). When I chanced upon Lidia’s recipe, I knew I had found it. This is one pasta that relies only on the goodness of extra-virgin olive oil, the flavor of garlic, the hint of spice from crushed red pepper and the freshness of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley — and the result is hearty and delicious. The cheese is optional, but adding it elevates the dish to another level.

Lidia Bastianich

One of America’s most popular celebrity chefs, Lidia owns several restaurants in the USA, many of which have been anointed with glowing reviews by food critics. She has also written several bestselling cookbooks, the latest of which is A Pot, A Pan and a Bowl (co-written with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali). Typical of Lidia, the book offers “Simple Recipes for Perfect Meals,” among them One-Pan Chicken and Eggplant Parmigiana, Grilled Calamari Salad and Skillet Sausage and Peppers. She has had a number of television shows and has won numerous awards, both for her work in promoting and propagating Italian cuisine and for her contributions to humanitarian causes.

Lidia is one of the founders of Eataly, a marketplace that celebrates Italian cuisine. With several locations in the USA, it has restaurants, bakeries, pasta counters and coffee bars, as well as shops selling all kinds of Italian products. Eataly even offers Italian cooking classes.

A few years ago, I visited the Eataly branch in Los Angeles and was floored by the tempting array of Italian goods. I couldn’t resist buying some pasta sauces and cans of Cento San Marzano tomatoes, which are sweeter and less acidic than other tomato varieties. Of course we also ordered arugula salad, pasta and pizza in one of the restaurants, and they all lived up to our expectations of excellent Italian cuisine.

For a taste of Lidia’s Italian cooking, try this recipe for Spaghettini Aglio Olio. It’s so simple yet so hearty, you’ll want to cook it over and over again (like I do). To make the meal complete, serve it with buttered, toasted baguette slices or garlic bread.

Lidia’s Spaghettini with Olive Oil and Garlic
(Based on the recipe of Lidia Bastianich)

Lidia's Spaghettini with Garlic and Olive Oil.

12 - 16 cups water, for boiling the pasta
Salt
500 grams pasta (may use spaghettini, vermicelli or spaghetti)
5 - 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon (or more, to taste) crushed red pepper (you can use chili flakes)1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup freshly grated cheese, optional (may use Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano or Parmiggiano Reggiano)
Buttered baguette slices or garlic bread

In a large deep pot, pour in the water and add the salt. Bring to a boil then stir in the pasta. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Let the pasta cook, stirring occasionally until almost tender but still half cooked, about six minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat three tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic turns a pale golden color, about two minutes. Remove from the heat and add the crushed red pepper.

Return to heat and ladle about one and a half cups of the pasta cooking water into the skillet. Stir in the parsley and the remaining two to three tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt to taste.

Using a large wire skimmer, remove the pasta from the boiling water and transfer to the sauce in the skillet. Bring to a simmer, tossing the pasta to coat it completely with the sauce, about one minute. Simmer until the pasta is al dente, about four more minutes. Remove from the heat and if desired, add the grated cheese. Check the seasoning. If desired, season with more salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Serve immediately in warm pasta bowls, with additional grated cheese. You can also serve this with toasted, buttered baguette slices or garlic bread.