Thursday, 14 June 2012

ITTP Prague TEFL: Aglio Olio

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You often hear cooks and chefs discussing what their last meal would be if they had to choose. Like if they were on death row or something. According to Anthony Bourdain (worship, worship), most of the musings are surprisingly for quite simple meals. Tony's for example would be baked bone marrow, spread on some freshly toasted bread and with a bit of freshly crushed sea salt. No Lobster Bisque. No Steak Frites, etc. If I had to make the choice then mine would either be Oeufs Meurette, or Aglio Olio (which translates simply as Garlic Oil). Aglio Olio though would be my number 1 choice but only if I made it myself :-) I first heard the words 'Aglio Olio' uttered when I was on one of my Winter teaching English breaks (from Prague) in the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. For a week every year in February, I would make my way in the freezing temperatures on the bus to the Prague airport, barely being able to make out the Letiste sign clad in freezing ice and snow, and a few air hours later I'd be landed at Cairo airport and making my way like the only green rabbit hastily mingling in a city of red rabbits, through the city to the East Delta bus company where I'd catch my bus to Dahab: the Koh Samui hippie wannabe destination back then of the Red Sea. Tarrabin is a smaller settlement along from Dahab and it was here where I first met a bunch of fellow Englishmen (who became and still remain great friends) who said that I just HAD to meet 'this guy dressed like a psychedelic prophet'. Btw, the Egyptian Red Sea coastline is a wonderful part of the world and there is nothing like idly listing in your hammock, sipping on an Egyptian Stella, and gazing half mesmerized at the blue sizzling hue of the Red Sea and the distant chameleon golden red mountains of Jordan and Saudi Arabia - in absolute quiet and peace with the gentle washing machine white noise cycle of the Red Sea tide being the only lazy interruption from a general comforting sense of inner and outer pure sunny karma bliss. I don't remember the name of the 'prophet' but he was Italian and one day he cooked us all Aglio Olio. For him it wasn't just a dish and he cursed us for not draining the water out faster when the spaghetti was cooked. Back then I thought he was uptight. Now however, I think differently. Here is my recipe for Aglio Olio:


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Packet of good quality spaghetti.
Good quality olive oil (extra virgin).
A few cloves of garlic.
Course sea salt.
Freshly ground pepper.
Parmesan cheese.
A sprig of fresh parsley.


Take a large pot and fill a quarter to half way with clean cold water.
Add a pinch or two of salt and a small sloshing of the oil to the liquid.
Stir a little, and bring to the boil on a high heat.
Add the amount of spaghetti you require and add whole to the pot.
Turn down the heat a little, but not too much.
In the meantime, spread some salt on a chopping board, peel the cloves, and chop into small pieces together with the salt.
After the required cooking time turn off the heat and strain the water so you are left with the spaghetti in the pot.
Add the garlic/salt mixture and stir in to mix with the spaghetti with the pot still on the cooker plate (which should still be either hot or warm). Stir contents together for 10 seconds. Add a few cracks of freshly ground pepper and stir in the chopped parsley and add another slosh of the virgin olive oil. Stir for a further 10 seconds.
Adjust the seasoning to your taste (salt).
Leave contents of pot to rest (covered) for another 30 seconds while you grate the parmesan.
Add the permesan to the pot and stir, or add it to the top of the meal or as a garnish when the meal is plated up for serving. I prefer the method of adding the cheese later because it alleviates the melted cheese syndrome, and in addition I also like to save some of the chopped parsley for plate garnish too.

Preparation tip:

For a more intense taste you can add a stock cube to the boiling water when cooking the spaghetti.
Leave the spaghetti whole in the pot. If need be, gently curve the spaghetti with the back of a wooden spoon so that it is completely covered by the water. Never cut the spaghetti to fit the pot.
You are looking for al dente (Italian translation: 'to the tooth') - which means that the spaghetti is firm but not hard (and most definitely not soft).
If your spaghetti packet states a cooking time of 8 minutes for al dente make sure to keep it in the water for only 7 minutes because remember that the spaghetti will continue to cook when you strain the water and when you are adding the garlic (when the pot is still warm). Immediately strain the water from the spaghetti when at the desired cooking time.
You can also add chilli flakes to this dish. I personally prefer not to because I'm after that defining winning combo of extra olive oil and garlic and this is no time for a complication of tastes.

Pimp it up:

This is exactly what you shouldn't do here.
Aglio Olio if anything needs a pimp DOWN: just use spaghetti, oil, salt and garlic.
The only pimping up which I recommend is making your own spaghetti and we sometimes do this. For this recipe I went for the shop bought option though because the spaghetti machine is at the cottage and anyway, Marco Pierre White (who I only worship once because of his alleged Knorr sellout, even though he is a God sharpening his knives among mere mortal chefs) claims that some Michelin Star chefs regularly use ready made packet spaghetti. If you do want to make your own spaghetti then please feel free to email us for the recipe and here is the machine which we use:

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Consumption of this meal may reduce the sex drive of your partner, or potential partners if out on a date or night on the tiles. This meal may also affect the number of friends willing to meet for shooting the bull with you. This meal might also have an adverse effect on job interviews. You might find that people change sides of the street when they smell you coming. Under no circumstances whatsoever should you order theater tickets after consuming this meal. No matter how much you brush or mouthwash, this meal is going to become a fixture of your persona for at least 48 hours. It's worth it. Trust me. Hey, where did everyone go?

Hope it helps!

Dobrou chut!/Bon appetit!

Neville :-)