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A Chef's Desert Island Pasta

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As a chef, I'm often asked if I have a Desert Island Food. It's actually one of my favorite questions, because I don’t think twice about my answer: pasta with olive oil, chili, and garlic.

Pasta Aglio Olio
Pasta Aglio Olio

But more than a Desert Island dish, it’s the meal that with a minimally stocked pantry is always only 10 minutes away. I make it when I come home late at night after work, or for a lazy Sunday lunch. I make it after a full day of international flights and trains and cars, when I arrive ravenous at my family house in Tuscany and we haven’t yet had time to shop.


Olive oil, garlic, and chili will keep for quite a long time in a pantry, and if I'm lucky, a handful of parsley will have reseeded itself in the herb garden outside the kitchen door. It's always quick (one of the few sauces you can prepare while the pasta cooks), and it's a building block for all sorts of additions—seared shrimp, leftover fish, or a handful of greens rescued from the refrigerator.

Italians never eat this with grated cheese, but I like the addition if I have some. If not, eat it like an Italian, and pair simply with a glass of red wine.

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Pasta Aglio Olio

71ac0add b9dd 45dd 87f6 3be6244a2f8b  unnamed Sara Jenkins
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Serves 6 as a primo, 4 as a secondo
  • Sea salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli, or other long thin pasta
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 small dried hot red chili, crumbled, or hot red pepper flakes to taste
  • 3/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
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Tell us: What's your desert island dish?

Tags: desert island food, chile, garlic, olive oil