Aglio e Olio Con Amore

Recipe #11: Pasta With Garlic and Parsley

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We make pasta aglio e olio all the time in our house. It’s fast and easy and to my mind it is just about the most perfect meal imaginable especially when lemon and a little crushed red chiles are added. On our second date, Jim made aglio e olio for me. I had never had it before and now I find I could eat it almost every night.

So when Luca was searching for his next recipe and skipped right past Pasta With Garlic and Parsley, I had him take another look. He looked it over and then only got excited by the optional additions to the dish which he read aloud. “’Parmesan cheese, rocket (arugula) or basil instead of parsley.’” Luca looked up and said, “No.” He went on: “’Chopped anchobies (sic) or olives, fresh tomatoes, and pine nuts or walnuts.’” Jim, a huge fan of pine nuts, perked up at the mention of them. “That sounds good.” But Luca said, “No pine nuts. No walnuts.” Then after a moment of considering, he said, “Anchobies, fresh tomatoes and olives. And Parmesan cheese, of course.” I told Luca that half of being a good chef was knowing what will taste good, and I thought he had picked an excellent combination of ingredients. I couldn’t wait.

The next day when it was time to start cooking, I got out all the ingredients and laid them on the counter. Luca washed his hands and then looked at the garlic and panicked. “I don’t want to work with the garlic!” he shouted. This has become a sort of mantra of his. I have no idea where he got this particular phrasing but every time he sees that garlic is involved in a recipe, he shouts out: “I don’t want to work with the garlic!” I tried coaxing him into it but saw almost instantly that it was no use. He will get over his fear of garlic one way or another and it won’t be due to my powers of persuasion.

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I started chopping garlic while Luca separated the parsley leaves from the stems. We worked side by side in relative quiet (all but for the new album from Zeep, friends of ours from London who make incredibly fun and sophisticated music that cannot help but put you in a great mood). After a few minutes Luca said, “What is parsley’s protection?” This idea tends to occur to Luca as he is annihilating something at the chopping block. In the case of the onions of a couple of weeks ago, his eyes welled up leading him to marvel at the way the onions keeps predators like him away. The parsley must have seemed defenseless in comparison because Luca was ripping it apart.

He chopped the anchovies and then went to wash his hands. Then he chopped the olives (one by one until I intervened) and now there were five piles of delicious things ready to go into the pasta.

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olives, parsley, anchovy...

Luca poured the olive oil into the skillet and I added the garlic. He stood on the step stool and stirred it gently. “Be careful not to let it brown!” he remembered from the book, and I thought of how faithfully he adheres to Alice Waters’ directions. How much easier our mornings would be if only she would write a recipe for getting to school on time. “Step one: get out of bed precisely when you are told. Step two; put on your clothes and go the bathroom to brush your teeth. You must do this right away.

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The water was boiling and Luca poured in the pasta. He jumped back a bit when he felt the steam on his arms and I realized that this was his first time putting dried pasta in a pot of boiling water. Not a milestone exactly but one of a thousand hurdles that will make him more capable in the kitchen and the world beyond. I hadn’t realized until Luca embarked on this cooking project that the kitchen provided so many opportunities to conquer one’s fear; fear of knives and heat, fear of garlic, fear of getting it wrong.

This last has to do with risks other than the physical ones. Because what is cooking if not an offering? And with any offering we hope that it spreads some joy and also that no one laughs in our faces. For this reason baking is infinitely more terrifying than making things like pasta sauces and stews. With baking there is no hiding the ugly mistakes (see the post below). Luca’s desire to cook comes from his love of food. When he is cooking he learns about chemistry and flavor and how to manage utensils and fire. He is learning that some aspects of cooking are tedious and tiring and that therefore the whole enterprise requires a certain amount of generosity. He is learning that even though we have to put dinner on the table every night we can try to do so with imagination and sometimes even a sense of adventure. He is learning the joy of giving pleasure. In short, he is mostly learning about love.

When the pasta was ready, Luca read that we were supposed to drain it and put it in the skillet with the olive oil and garlic. Luca took the tongs and tried transferring the pasta to the skillet but it was a big mess so I took over. With the tongs, he turned the pasta over and over in the oil and garlic. Then he put in the olives and parsley and turned that round and then the rest of the ingredients.  He added salt and pepper and mixed it all together.

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Luca’s first pasta dish ended up looking like this:

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Perfetto!

Because this is exactly the kind of food that I live for, I dug in happily and then remembered to grate some Parmesan on top. I scraped my thumb on the cheese grater and it started to bleed a little. I was too busy eating to care.

“Luca, “ I said, devouring the pasta. “What do you think? This is incredible!”

But he was worried about my thumb. With a full plate of food in front of him, he came around to my side of the table and gave my thumb a serious look. Then he hugged me went back to his food. Neither of us spoke until our plates were empty. Then we went for seconds.

Now that’s love.

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