There are abundant variations on this pasta sauce, but the two ingredients on which all agree is garlic (aglio in Italian, with a silent “g”) and plenty of it, and don’t stint on the red pepper flakes. Beyond that, to mince or thinly slice the garlic, to brown it in the (also abundant) olive oil or not, and to add or not to add tomato sauce, all appear to be a matter of one’s own preferences. Parmesan? That’s up to you, too.
I made a large batch because I want leftovers for lunch during what is going to be another pedal-to-the-metal week. At work, I really try to leave the kitchen and actually sit down to eat lunch. Even if for no more than 15 minutes, to sit and enjoy something of my own from home while reading a few pages of a book is downright restorative. And comfort doesn’t get any better for me than garlic, tomatoes, and pasta.
The dish is traditionally known as Pici all’Aglione. It comes from around Montepulciano, in Siena, which is south and east of Florence a bit, almost in the exact center of Italy. Some of my most favorite red wines are produced in the same area. Che coincidenza.
I digress. Pici is a long, thin, hand-rolled pasta, somewhat like a thicker, rustic version of spaghetti. It’s lots of fun to start with a small knot of dough and roll it back and forth beneath one’s palms on a board as it miraculously lengthens and grows thinner. The long pieces are then coiled up on a baking sheet sprinkled with semolina flour until it’s time to cook them. While making it is a great way to spend a weekend evening, this is a school night, and hand-made pasta is not happening. That said, the bold sauce needs a substantial pasta to stand up to it. I decided to use fettuccine.
Serves 4, or fewer with leftovers
12 ounces fettuccine (3/4 of a package)
10 cloves of garlic, minced, but not too finely
6 ounces good extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
15-ounce can of good-quality tomato sauce
Sea or kosher salt to taste
1. Begin heating water to cook the pasta. For how much water and how much salt to add, see here.
2. Open the can of tomato sauce. Pour the olive oil into a saucepan ( a decent, heavy-bottomed one is good) and warm it over medium heat. When it is hot, it will “shimmer,” or “ribbon.” Add the garlic and a generous half-teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Stir it about as it cooks, and do not let it brown. I find garlic takes on a bitter taste if it does. Once it is very fragrant, stir in the tomato sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer and set a lid on the pan, but leave it cracked about an inch. Let the sauce reduce and thicken for about 20 minutes.
3. When the sauce is 10 minutes away from being done, drop the pasta into boiling water. Fettuccine has a cook time of about 12 minutes. Set a timer for 10 minutes, as the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce. Stir the pasta as it cooks so that it doesn’t stick together or to the bottom of the pot. Set a colander in the sink. When the timer goes off, dip out about 8 ounces of cooking water and pour it into the sauce. The starchy water, in combination with the olive oil in the sauce, is going to give the sauce a heavenly silkiness once stirred into the pasta.
4. Strain the pasta through the colander, then return it to the pot.
5. Stir the pasta water into the sauce, taste it, then season it to taste with salt and pepper. Pour it into the pot of pasta and return the pot to medium-low heat. Use tongs to combine pasta and sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of more minutes.
5. Serve the pasta into bowls and pass a wedge of good Parmesan around with a grater. You’ll be glad you did.
Okay, it was all silky and spicy and more dente than al, just the way I like it. Deliziosa. Still and all, I’m quietly ecstatic over the leftovers. And Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir, A Pig in Provence that I’ve downloaded. I see some sweet lunches on the horizon. Starting with tomorrow.