Make Ahead

Spaghetti Aglio Olio with Bacon and Garlic Breadcrumbs

May 19, 2011
3 Ratings
  • Serves 4 hungry people
Author Notes

Spaghetti Aglio Olio was my grandmother's favorite pasta dish. She often made it at home, and she always ordered it in the local Italian restaurant she and my grandfather patronized. Whenever I make and eat this dish, I think of her. It seems almost silly to provide a recipe for this Roman dish. The ingredient list is small and, as far as the cooking goes, I find that the method is pretty intuitive. However, I have experimented with a few techniques and tweaks.

Most recipes for aglio e olio have you heat the oil in a pan and then add the garlic to the hot oil. However, with this method, if you don't keep a vigilant eye on the garlic, the small bits are inclined to burn easily. What I like to do instead is to start the olive oil and garlic in a cold pan. Then I turn on the heat very low. As the oil warms up, the garlic flavors the oil and releases its own oils. When the oil starts to bubble, the garlic cooks slowly, almost poaching in the oil. I find I only need to watch the garlic with an eagle eye at the end of the cooking time, and, using this method, the dish is almost impossible to burn.

This recipe can be prepared quickly, pretty much with pantry ingredients, making it ideal for weeknight dinners or those evenings when I don't have many groceries on hand but need to get dinner on the table quickly. It's also a good choice for those evenings when you have unexpected guests and want to whip up a quick dinner without running to the market. The only specialty ingredients are the cheese, the olive oil and possibly the bacon. But only two slices of bacon are used, just enough to flavor the breadcrumbs, making this dish easy on the wallet. I use extra virgin olive oil from the grocery store when making this dish, which works fine and also isn't too pricey. —cookinginvictoria

Test Kitchen Notes

This dish is mad, bad and dangerous to know. And I mean that in a good way. Keats possibly supped on this along with his pal Shelly on the night before he passed away in Rome. I’ve made this many times before as a hardcore “Romanista.” As a tester, for the bacon I used locally made pancetta -- Italian bacon isn’t smoked and the recipe doesn’t specify so I took the old school route. This is easy to knock out for lunch or a light supper. It embodies what’s so grand about Roman cooking. —pierino

What You'll Need
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 3 slices day old bread
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 small cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/2 pound dry, good quality spaghetti
  • Salt and crushed red pepper flakes (if desired)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  1. Put slices of bacon in heavy duty skillet. Over medium-low heat sauté bacon, turning frequently until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and place between layers of paper towel on a plate. Set bacon aside.
  2. Put bread slices on baking sheet. Place in a 350°F oven for about five minutes. Remove pan from oven and when bread is cool, tear into rough chunks. Put bread in food processor and whirl until bread has turned into coarse crumbs. (Alternatively, you can make crumbs by putting bread chunks in a ziploc bag and crushing with a rolling pin.) In small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. When oil is warm, add bread crumbs and stir to combine. After about 2-3 minutes, crumbs will turn golden and toasty. Remove from heat, put in bowl and set aside.
  3. Fill large pot with salted water and place on stove under high heat. While waiting for water to boil, put 1/3 cup oil and garlic in heavy skillet, stir and place on stove. Turn heat on very low, stirring occasionally. When water in big pot comes to a boil, add dry pasta to water and stir. When water comes back to a boil, turn heat down to medium-high.
  4. Check on garlic. (If you like crushed red papper flakes, add them now -- about 1/2 teaspoon is good.) When garlic starts to bubble in the oil (after about 5-10 minutes), stir occasionally and watch carefully. The garlic is finished cooking when it turns translucent, the edges are about to turn golden, and it's fragrant. Immediately remove from heat. Add chopped bacon and 2 tablespoons garlic and oil mixture to bowl containing breadcrumbs. Stir to combine.
  5. When pasta is al dente, drain in a colander, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Remove about 3 tablespoons oil and garlic from skillet and set aside in small bowl for garnish. Add cooked pasta to skillet containing oil and garlic mixture. With tongs mix thoroughly until all strands of spaghetti are evenly coated with oil. (If it looks too dry, add some of the pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time, until consistency seems right.) Add grated cheese and three quarters of the flavored bread crumbs and continue to mix.
  6. Now it's time to plate! Put a mound of spaghetti in a bowl or on a plate, dress with a little of the reserved garlic and oil mixture. Add another tablespoon or two of reserved bread crumbs. Shower with a bit of fresh parsley. Drizzle on a little more olive oil, if desired. Serve with crusty fresh bread for dipping into the garlic and bacon flavored oil. A glass of dry white wine also goes well with this pasta. Mangiare!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • pierino
  • cookinginvictoria
In 2009, after living more than twenty years in NYC, my husband, young daughter and I packed up our lives and embarked on a grand adventure, moving to Victoria, B.C. There are many things that we miss about New York (among them ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh ravioli and New York bagels), but, I have to admit, that living in the Pacific Northwest has been pretty amazing food-wise. Now we have a yard with plum and apple trees, a raspberry and strawberry patch and a Concord grape arbor. I have a vegetable and herb garden, so I can grow at least some of our food. And we have an amazing farmer's market a block from our house. I love cooking (and eating) seasonally and locally. And it's been very rewarding introducing my daughter to cooking and eating, and teaching her where our food comes from.

3 Reviews

pierino November 28, 2012
Some tester comments. First, I'd like to see this dish as a finalist because it's simple and very good. But no two Italian cooks are ever going to agree on anything, not even the most basic recipes. So here I go, 1/3 of a cup of olive oil is probably more than you need. And the bacon alone should render enough fat to toast the "mollica" aka bread crumbs. All that said this recipe works well and you should try it.
cookinginvictoria November 28, 2012
Wow, thank you for posting your tester's comments, pierino. I love your recipes and your hotline advice, and I am so happy that you gave such high marks to this dish. Your feedback is very much appreciated. You are so right -- Italian cooks never agree on anything! I do admit to using a rather generous(!) amount of olive oil in this dish. I think it's because after I've eaten the pasta, I like having a little pool of bacon and garlic flavored olive oil in the bottom of the bowl that I can dip some crusty bread into! Thanks again for testing (and enjoying) this recipe!
pierino November 30, 2012
The simple, fast version is to use a prepared spice mix. This is sold in packets in Rome as well as in Umbria, but it's incredibly easy to make your own. Use roughly equal parts dried red pepper flakes and seeds, dried parsley, dried garlic. That's it. I make small container of this to give away as gifts. Handy for pizza or just simple cooked pasta with olive oil. Good with sauteed mushrooms too.