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What is Aglio E Olio?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated May 16, 2024
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Aglio e olio is a conventional Italian pasta dish that is frequently associated with rural home-style cooking, also known as cucina rustica. The sauce recipe has several variations, but all versions include olive oil (olio), garlic (aglio) and cheese. It is traditionally served over long pasta such as spaghetti, vermicelli, angel hair, fettuccine or linguine.

Although the history of aglio e olio varies depending on the source of the information, its origins are often traced to the Italian region of Abruzzo. An isolated vicinity about 50 miles (about 80 km) east of Rome, Abruzzo was once distinguished by its underdevelopment and poverty. In the past few decades, however, the region has experienced significant growth and is currently considered one of the most thriving areas in the country.

The basic sauce recipe calls for minced or pressed garlic to be gently sautéed in olive oil until it is barely crisp. Cooks are cautioned in most recipes to take care not to burn the garlic, which makes it bitter and generally inedible. The oil and garlic combination is traditionally tossed with grated hard cheese, such as Romano or Parmesan, and long pasta. The choice of long pasta is attributed in some historical accounts to the fact that long pastas could be more easily made in countrified home kitchens than fancier short pastas.

Variations on the aglio e olio recipe normally include adding a few simple ingredients to the original sauce recipe. Some instructions for cooking the dish suggest the addition of hot pepper flakes, the seeds found inside dried red chili peppers. Other recipes recommend adding finely chopped Italian parsley leaves to the dish for flavor and color. For even more color and substance, some cooks add chopped fresh tomatoes to the oil and garlic mixture and let the flavors marry for a few minutes. To make the dish alla Milanese, referring to the Italian city of Milan, breadcrumbs are added during the last minutes of cooking the garlic to become crisp and add texture to the sauce.

Since it is still generally perceived as a low-level peasant dish, aglio e olio is rarely found on the menus of Italian restaurants. It is still considered a staple in many Southern Italian homes, where it is often chosen as a quick, satisfying meal or snack. Often hailed as a comfort food, legendary tales also frequently portray aglio e olio as a digestive aid. It is reportedly served at the end of all meals at one Naples eatery to help diners digest their entrees.

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Discussion Comments

By sunshined — On Dec 10, 2011

The first time I tried aglio e olio I was a bit disappointed. I usually love Italian dishes, but this one didn't have much cheese. For some reason I always thought Italian food and layers of cheese always went together.

I have been known to use way more than the amount of cheese a recipe calls for, so this was the main reason I didn't care for it so much.

Since I love to cook and create my own dishes, I could see how this would be awesome with more cheese added to the recipe. A little bit of Parmesan cheese sprinkled in is just never enough.

My pasta con aglio e olio recipe is not very traditional, but it suits my taste. I still use the traditional olive oil and garlic, but just like to spice it up a little bit.

I have also added shrimp to this recipe when I want something different and that goes over well with my husband too.

By John57 — On Dec 09, 2011

I have always loved cooking and eating Italian food. Several years ago I bought a book called 'Cucina Rustica' with a collection of recipes with these traditional Italian ingredients.

This has turned out to be one of my all time favorite cookbooks. I don't think I have had one failed recipe from this cookbook.

My family has a favorite that is called spaghetti con aglio e olio. I especially love making this when I have fresh tomatoes from my garden. Combine these with garlic, olive oil, cheese and long spaghetti and you have a meal that is hard to beat.

Although most of the recipes in the book call for meat, I have been able to use substitutions for my vegetarian friends. The results have been good, and the compliments I have received have been worth any extra effort.

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