Spaghetti aglio olio is one of those fundamental recipes that just about every household in Italy has made. Searching for flavors of home, Italian American immigrants could easily make this dish that is simple in both ingredients and technique: don't burn the garlic, and add pasta water to make it into a sauce.
In my researching throughout America, I found that the addition of basil to garlic and oil sauce was common.
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
10 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and let sizzle until garlic begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water once you begin cooking the garlic and give the spaghetti a stir.
Once the garlic is golden, add the peperoncino and let toast for a minute, then ladle in 2 cups pasta water. Bring the sauce to a rapid boil. Season with salt based on taste (and how salty your pasta water is). Once the sauce has reduced by about half and the spaghetti is al dente, scoop the pasta from the water and add to the sauce. Add the parsley. Cook and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Remove from heat, add the basil and grated cheese. Toss, adding a final drizzle of olive oil, and serve immediately.
This recipe can be transformed into a different sauce without major effort or investment. You can add four anchovy fillets when you add the sliced garlic or add 1/2 cup drained capers when you add the pasta water, or you can add both.
Excerpted from Lidia's Italy in America by Lidia Bastianich. Copyright © 2011 by Lidia Bastianich. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.