So, our freezer is officially ready to burst. I wish I could say that it’s packed to the brim with healthy, ready-to-heat casseroles and nourishing breakfasts that I tucked away for the zombie days ahead, but that’s only about 30% true — maybe more like 0% true depending on how you interpret “healthy” or “nourishing” — and the remainder is more things like baked French toast (coming soon!) and frozen brownies for the nurses (okay, also for me) and that Costco 17-pack of Hot Pockets we gleefully took home last Sunday. But the good news is that we finally bought a new microwave after leaving our old one in New York a few months ago (which made the last gleeful Costco pack of Hot Pockets we bought a little less gleeful when we got home and realized our folly. Twenty-eight minutes in the oven. Twenty-eight. Sometimes more like 40. Also, what made them choose to include 17?) So we are ready to irradiate these meals to our heart’s content.
With the freezer full, I’ve turned to Plan B, which is finding ideas for easy, quick dinners that — with any luck — I might be able to throw together in the next few months, too. Bonus points if it’s reliable and I know B2 will love it as much as I do, and even more if it’s the kind of thing that can clean out the fridge before we have to run to the store again. This 30-minute, easiest garlicky spaghetti ticks off every one of those boxes. It comes by way of Cook’s Science, from America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated, so I can rest easy on the reliability front right off the bat, but more than that, it’s everything you’d want a super garlicky, carb-happy weeknight pasta to be: Minced garlic is sizzled very gently in olive oil until toasty, sweet, and golden brown, in just about the same time it takes your pasta water to come to boil, then it’s tossed with your spaghetti and just the right amount of starchy water, plus some extra raw garlic, to create a clingy, silky sauce that cloaks the spaghetti just right without tasting at all oily. Livened up with lemon and some capers you’ve been meaning to use, but made satisfying and savory with grated Parmesan and whatever nuts you might have on hand in the pantry after the last cookie-baking session, it’s the kind of unbelievably quick but so rewarding dinner that we should all have once in awhile, even when not short on time.
Also! The folks at America’s Test Kitchen are giving away a copy of Cook’s Science to one reader! The book is a compendium of 300 recipes centered around 50 ingredients and how to get the most of them, all the recipes are tried and true and tested, and I’m so excited for you to explore it as much as I have been lately. To enter, just leave a comment below with your email or a comment on Instagram by next Friday, October 28 at 11:59 PM PST. The giveaway is limited to U.S. residents only, and the winner will be notified by email. Thank you so much to ATK for sponsoring this post, and to you for reading!
The silky, flavorful base to this pasta makes it a garlicky blank slate for all kinds of endless variations. This is our slightly-adapted variant to use up what we had in the pantry; see the Notes below for the original recipe, plus a few more variations, as printed in Cook's Science, by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated and Guy Crosby. In testing, they noted minced garlic was best for its ability to toast evenly, and that a bit of raw garlic, added in addition to the gently-toasted bits, added some fresh garlicky zing; the amount of water to use, 2 quarts, is also crucial in creating the right amount of starchiness in the pasta water to help the sauce cling to the spaghetti without being oily.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon minced garlic, divided
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Salt and pepper
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
- 3 tablespoons capers, minced (see Notes)
- 1 ounce Parmesan, grated (½ cup), plus extra for serving
- ½ cup toasted almonds (see Notes)
- ½ cup fresh parsley, for serving (optional; see Notes)
- Combine oil and 2 tablespoons minced garlic in an 8-inch non-stick skillet. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is pale golden brown, 9 to 12 minutes. (For me, this took the full 12 minutes -- the garlic began to sizzle gently at around 4 minutes or so, and took about 8 minutes at a gentle sizzle to turn golden.) Off the heat, stir in the pepper flakes and set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add the spaghetti and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. (The pasta should still have quite a bit of bite; it will continue to cook in the sauce, so I prefer to take it off the heat when it’s several minutes less cooked than I want.)
- Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon garlic, lemon zest and juice, reserved garlic-oil mixture, and reserved 1 cup of pasta water to the pasta in the pot. Stir until pasta is well-coated with oil and no water remains in the bottom of the pot. (*Note:* I did this over medium heat.)
- Add the minced capers, grated Parmesan, and almonds, and toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve, with extra Parmesan on the side and fresh parsley, if desired. Enjoy!
The original recipe does not add capers, parsley, or almonds, but uses 1 cup chopped fresh basil and pine nuts instead, added in the same step (with the Parmesan).
Another delectable-sounding variation in the book omits the lemon zest, basil, and pine nuts, reduces the lemon juice to 1 tablespoon, then calls for 3 tablespoons capers, minced, 3 tablespoons currants, minced, and 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted, dry, and minced, to be mixed into the pasta with the lemon juice.
Finally, for still another play on this pasta, omit the lemon zest, basil, and pine nuts, and reduce the lemon juice to 1 tablespoon. Stir 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds, coarsely ground, into the garlic-oil mixture with the red pepper flakes. Stir one 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts, chopped, into the pasta with the lemon juice. Add ½ cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and chopped, into the pasta with the Parmesan, instead of the pine nuts.