The key to a flavor-packed spaghetti made from pantry ingredients is making the most of the garlic. We mince our garlic to make sure that all of it cooks at the same rate. Toasting the garlic over low heat in extra-virgin olive oil ensures that it cooks to a pale golden brown. Any darker and its flavor goes from delicately buttery and sweet to bitter and harsh.
We cook our spaghetti in 1 quart of salted water in order to ensure that the pasta cooking liquid is loaded with starch. We reserve a portion of this liquid and add it to the spaghetti along with the oil. The starch helps the oil cling to the pasta and gives the dish a perfect—not greasy—texture. Adding raw minced garlic near the end of cooking helps to balance garlic’s dual attributes—the buttery sweetness of toasted garlic and the fire of raw garlic.
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- Salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil
- ½ ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus extra for serving
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- Combine 1 tablespoon garlic and oil in 8-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is pale golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Off heat, stir in pepper flakes; set aside.
- Bring 1 quart water to boil in large saucepan. Add pasta and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot.
- Add remaining ¼ teaspoon garlic, lemon zest and juice, reserved garlic-oil mixture, and reserved cooking water to pasta in pot. Stir until pasta is well coated with oil and no water remains in bottom of pot. Add basil, Parmesan, and pine nuts and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.