Things You Didn't Know You Needed to Know: How to Make a Quick and Easy Italian Pasta Dish

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Hey, this isn't a cooking blog!"

But here's the thing: Italy is all about food. Americans can be great at cooking too, obviously. But some of us tend to feel a bit intimidated when it comes to cooking Italian food for our Italian spouse/significant other/guests, because we haven't all grown up cooking the same legendary food in the same way as they have. So, understandably, you may be feeling some pressure when it's your turn to cook.

Don't worry, though, because today I am going to teach you how to make a dish that requires almost zero culinary know-how, but just may fool your lunch guests into thinking that you've been doing this whole Italian cooking thing for years.

(Seriously, if you know how to boil pasta and how to keep an eye on something on the stove for a couple minutes so it doesn't burn, you can make this dish, I promise.)


Spaghetti con Aglio, Olio, e Peperoncino Recipe



  • olio - olive oil
  • aglio - garlic (however much is up to you, but one or two large-ish, individual cloves is usually plenty for two people)
  • peperoncino – a spicy chili pepper (you can substitute this with red pepper flakes if you’re in a pinch. Or in America)
  • a few cherry tomatoes, cut into small pieces
  • spaghetti – 100 grams per person usually works out best
  • salt (to taste)


  1. Start by putting some water in a pan to boil.
  2. While that’s warming up, get a deep pan and put some olive oil in it (don’t go crazy, but this will make up part of the “sauce” of the pasta, so don’t be stingy either. Coating the bottom of the pan should do).
  3. Slice your garlic into small pieces and put them in the oil, along with the peperoncino. Turn on the heat and start to saute them.
    Note: Peperoncino can be VERY spicy, so if you’re sensitive to spice, don’t put too much!
  4. Cook the garlic, stirring often, until it has softened. Don’t take your eyes off of it though, as it burns fast!
  5. Add the cherry tomatoes (and a bit of salt, if you’d like) and cook until they are soft as well. Then turn off the heat and put the pan aside so the garlic doesn’t keep cooking.
  6. When the water is at a full rolling boil, add some salt (a couple teaspoons should do it), and the pasta. Cook as directed on the package.
  7. When the spaghetti reaches your desired level of doneness, drain it, leaving only a little bit of water in the pot to help create a creamier consistency for your finished dish.
  8. Add the spaghetti, the remaining bit of water, and the aglio, olio, peperoncino, and tomatoes together in the bigger of the two pans and toss, making sure all the spaghetti gets coated. Cook for another couple of minutes to turn the water to something more like a “cream” and to ensure the flavor really seeps into the pasta.
  9. Put on a plate, top with grated Parmesan cheese, and serve, bracing yourself for lots of compliments.


Buon appetito!

Have you made this dish yet? Do you know any tips and tricks or other recipes the rest of us could try? Let us know in the comments section!

You can omit the tomatoes for a white version. Everything the same except increase the olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and perhaps another clove of garlic. No cheese in this version; instead toast some breadcrumbs in a small pan either dry or with a tiny bit of olive oil. Just before serving the plated pasta, sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs and some freshly chopped parsley on top. Cucina povera at its best. This white Spaghetti Aglio Olio is a also a great base for adding an extra ingredient like shrimp (sautéed in the garlic oil (fast and easy). Or, my favorite., flake some Italian tuna from a jar or can and mix it into the pasta once the the cooking has stopped (no need to cook the tuna) and some frozen peas that were dropped into the pot during the last minute of cooking the pasta. Tutto insieme. The peas are a substitute for the parsley, but keep those toasted breadcrumbs. I would say one trick that works well when cooking the garlic — place a small amount of pasta water in the pan once the garlic has been cooking for a couple of minutes to prevent burning. Do this any number of times as necessary. It also softens the garlic, mellows the flavors, and adds substance to the sauce. You can always stop cooking the garlic too and start it up again as the pasta nears al dente. Another tip: Always save some pasta water for this white version. The pasta should not be dry and dense. There should be a pleasant sloshy sound when it’s just right. The pasta often drinks up the liquid just after it is dressed with the sauce. Feel free to toss with more pasta water and add some fresh olive oil too. This recipe is very forgiving and quick to put together. My grandmother made it, my mother made it, and I cannot live without it. One of my all time favorites meals!

Great tips, Thomas! You're making me hungry. I just tried adding some of the pasta water to the pan when I made this today and it was a game-changer for sure! It's a simple trick, but really helped create that nice, creamy consistency.

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