Most of my Easters have been for just two people. As a child, the other was my mother, and we colored eggs, which I would find hidden around the house the next morning… often one was stuck in a slipper.
(As an adult, my Easters have been spent with my husband. Quiet mornings. Sometimes at church, sometimes worshipping each other, instead.)
Tulips were ever present. Tulips. Irises. Calla Lilies. All standing on their green stalks and bowing their heads as if the turning of the years, the arrival of spring, the hope of new growth and better days is instilling them with reverence, not necessarily to God, but to Nature and her Work.
But maybe God and Nature are one and the same, and we simply carve up the naming of things into chunks made for human understanding.
Always, on Easter Eve, with the kitchen smelling like vinegar, and our fingers stained blue, green, purple, we would make aglio e olio, which in our New Jersey, Neapolitan dialect becomes something more akin to “ahlya awlya.”
It’s the simplest of Neapolitan dishes. Four ingredients (six, if you count the salted water): Spaghetti, fresh garlic, olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes. If you want to be fancy you can add Italian parsley for color, or sprinkle it with parmesan at the end, but it’s not really necessary.
Most Italian dishes are improvisational. You add some of this, a little of that, and when it smells right, looks right, tastes right – you know it’s ready. And my family are big with kitchen improv (except for my husband, the engineer) so we never make anything exactly the same way twice. Cooking is an art, after all. (Baking is a science, but that’s another story.)
But, here’s a reasonable attempt at a recipe for other people. People who don’t experiment.
One box dry spaghetti or linguini. Spaghetti is traditional, but linguini works just fine. My favorite American brand is DiCecco but use whatever you like.
Olive oil. This is the main ingredient in this dish, so use the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find.
4-12 garlic cloves, peeled and minced. I like my aglio e olio super-garlicky, so I tend to use 10-12 cloves. If you’re less of a garlic fan, use less. Obviously, the size of the clove makes a difference.
Crushed red pepper flakes. This is a to-taste ingredient. If you want just a touch of heat, ¼ teaspoon is enough. If you want more heat add more. It’s better to go easy and add incrementally.
1) Cook the spaghetti according to package directions in salted boiling water. NEVER PUT OIL IN PASTA WATER, only salt, but cook for one minute less than the listed time for al dente pasta. Do not drain it.
2) Mince the garlic while the water is boiling. Everything goes really quickly once you start cooking, so you’ll want this prepared.
3) About three minutes after the pasta goes into the water, heat olive oil in a deep frying pan or skillet. I often use a stovetop wok pan. You want something large enough to hold the pasta. Amount is up to you, but I typically use a couple tablespoons. You’re going to need enough to coat the pasta.
4) Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. You’ll want to sauté it for 3-5 minutes, but don’t let the garlic burn.
5) When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer it to the pan with the garlic, pepper flakes and oil. Add ½ cup of the starchy water and toss it all to coat.
6) Taste it, and if you want to add a pinch of salt or more pepper, do so.
7) Add any garnishes like grated parmesan or minced parsley These are completely optional.
8) Serve hot in plates or bowls.