This dish takes me back to my college years, except this is the grown-up version. One of my go-to meals in college was a bowl of pasta with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh parmesan– eaten with some of my girlfriends, of course. There was rarely a time that I wasn’t in the mood for it and it always hit the spot. So very simple.
A few many years later, this still remains a favorite comfort meal of mine, with a few tweaks, of course.
A delicious stunner of a meal doesn’t have to be complicated or take up your entire night to prepare. This dish takes only minutes. In fact, in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta you are finished. Not bad, right?
The robust flavors are what make me love this dish. Pungent garlic, spicy chili peppers, bright lemon juice and zest, fresh nutty parmesan, vibrant parsley, and even an anchovy (if you are so inclined) give this meal a wonderful depth. You can customize it to fit your family’s needs, of course. Not into spicy food? Go ahead and skip the peppers. I generally double the amount of spice when I make it for myself– I can’t get it hot enough. The main trick of this dish, is to know that the finished pasta has to be thinned out with some reserved pasta water. This is key. The pasta water (containing all of its starches) clings to the pasta and creates a light, creamy sauce with the parmesan and olive oil. It’s magical. So, don’t be afraid to loosen it up with that water– it’s a necessity!
Another tip to know is that the garlic, onion, chili pepper, lemon zest, and hot pepper flakes need to be sautéed in the olive oil while the pasta is cooking. This is important because it infuses the oil with a ton of flavor, but you’ll want to keep the temperature on the low side, so the garlic doesn’t burn. This is a perfect meal when you are in the mood for delicious comfort food, but are a bit short on time. Admittedly, this is not one of Radd’s favorite pasta dishes, which stuns me because it’s so amazing (he tends to lean toward the meat-full varieties), so I’ve written the recipe to serve one. You can easily adjust if you are aiming for a larger portion. Hope you enjoy!
The Recipe: Simple Pasta with Garlic, Chilies, and Lemon
3 ounces long pasta (thin spaghetti works well here)
about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, use more if needed
2 tablespoons finely minced red or white onion, or shallot
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 small anchovy, finely minced (optional, of course)
1 red chili pepper, finely minced (scale back or add more according to taste)
sprinkle of hot pepper flakes
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup good quality parmesan or grana padano cheese
large handful of freshly chopped parsley
1 cup of reserved pasta water (you most likely will not use all of it)
salt and pepper
Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, chop the ingredients.
Add the dry pasta to the boiling water, be sure to add salt.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a small skillet with olive oil and add the garlic, onion, chili peppers, hot pepper flakes, lemon zest, and anchovy (if using). Sauté over low-medium heat, stirring regularly. Keep a watchful eye, so the garlic doesn’t burn. You want to infuse the olive oil with all the flavors. The vegetables should be tender by the time the pasta is finished cooking, or even a bit before.
Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the vegetables. Add most of the cheese (reserving some to sprinkle on top), lemon juice, and a bit of the pasta water. Combine using tongs. Add more water, if you want it looser. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and top with the remaining parmesan, fresh parsley, and more red pepper flakes. Enjoy!
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