This is the original recipe for garlic and oil pasta, a delicious Italian meal also known as spaghetti aglio e olio.
We'll show you how to make it to perfection in under 15 minutes, with simple ingredients.
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What to expect
Garlic and oil pasta is an Italian pasta recipe that originated in the south of Italy, most probably around the Naples area, and that is now famous all over the world for its simplicity and taste.
The recipe is a "low-budget" version of another southern-Italian recipe, spaghetti with mussels, where the sauce is made with the same basic ingredients: plenty of extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, chili peppers or red pepper flakes, and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley on top.
Most often Italians make garlic and oil pasta with spaghetti (hence the original name spaghetti aglio e olio), but you can make variations of this dish with vermicelli, linguine, bucatini, and even angel hair pasta.
Garlic and oil pasta is a perfect base recipe to build on and so you can add different ingredients if you like. Check out our variations below to see how we make it with lemon, spinach, broccoli, and even pan-fried tofu.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Garlic: Fresh garlic is best for this recipe. Cut it in half lengthwise and remove the core. Then you can finely slice it, grate it, or finely chop it.
- Oil: try to use extra virgin olive oil. Oil is the main ingredient for spaghetti aglio e olio so you want to get a good one.
- Red Pepper: you can use thinly sliced fresh red hot chili peppers or red pepper flakes.
- Parsley: this is optional but if you want to use it we recommend fresh flat-leaf parsley, which is the variety that people use in Italy.
- Water: to boil the pasta.
- Salt: you should salt the pasta water when cooking pasta. Traditionally this is done with coarse sea salt, but any salt is fine, as long as you season the water generously. Kosher salt is another good salt option.
- Pasta: use dried pasta that is made with 100% hard wheat semolina flour and water. There should be no egg or other ingredients. You can use an imported Italian brand if you want to be sure.
As for the type of pasta, the most common shape is spaghetti, however, you can use pretty much any long pasta type such as linguine, bucatini, and angel-hair pasta.
If you want the best quality possible, then go for bronze-cut spaghetti. You can read that on the label. Contrary to steel-cut pasta (which is the most common pasta found in supermarkets), bronze-cut pasta has a rugged, dusty-looking surface that helps the sauce stick to it.
Boil the pasta
Start by boiling the water for the pasta. To a large pot, bring about 1 gallon (3 to 4 liters) of water to boil. When the water boils add the coarse sea salt, then add the pasta.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water without a lid as per package instructions minus 1 minute as you want to pasta very "al dente" (al dente means slightly undercooked). Stir the pasta once or twice, so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.
We will then finish cooking the pasta in the pan with the garlic and oil sauce to have a tastier and creamier dish.
Make the garlic and oil sauce
While the pasta cooks finely chop the garlic, parsley, and fresh red chili (if you use red chili flakes you don't have to chop them).
Add the olive oil to a large skillet.
Set the heat to low, then when the oil is warm, add the finely chopped garlic and the finely chopped chili or red pepper flakes.
Fry in the oil for about 30 to 60 seconds, then turn the heat off and let fry gently with the residual heat of the pan. Set aside and wait for the pasta to cook.
Tip: cut the garlic lengthwise and remove its core before chopping it. The core can be hard to digest, so removing it will make this dish lighter.
Note: the garlic should not brown or burn. Keep the heat low. To prevent the garlic from burning you can tilt the pan to gather the oil and the garlic on one side.
When the pasta is almost cooked, turn the heat on again until the oil and garlic start to fry, and add the finely chopped parsley.
Move the pan around to disperse the parsley in the oil, then quickly turn the heat off and let the parsley, garlic, and red pepper flakes fry gently with the residual heat of the pan and the oil.
Finally, when the pasta is cooked "al dente" reserve a cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta.
Toss in and serve
Toss the spaghetti in the large skillet with the garlic and oil sauce, turn the heat on medium and finish cooking the pasta for another minute, while gently moving it around. Add a ladleful of reserved pasta water to make the whole thing come together.
Serve this wonderful garlic and oil pasta immediately, with some extra olive oil and parsley on top.
This garlic and oil pasta recipe is one of the handiest easy dinners since the sauce is ready at the time of cooking the pasta. But if you, like us, want to increase your veggie intake, take a peek at these healthy side dishes:
- Crunchy kale chips
- Roasted artichokes and potatoes
- Steamed artichokes
- Cucumber and tomato salad
- Brussels sprout salad
- Roasted broccoli
- Roasted Brussels sprout
- Oven-baked veggie tray
- Confit tomatoes
PSST! If you're also a big fan of vegan Italian recipes, we hear you! If we missed one of your favorite Italian recipes on our site, let us know in the comments below. Comments and ratings help us improve our content, so leave us a note below if you like what we do ❤️
Garlic and oil pasta with broccoli
This is one of Louise's favorite pasta dishes ever. It's incredibly creamy and easy to make.
All you need to do is separate the broccoli florets from one another (you'll need a medium-sized broccoli head for 4 people), and chop the larger florets in half. Then boil the broccoli together with the pasta, in the same pot, and at the same time. This way both the pasta and the broccoli will get super flavorful.
When the pasta and the broccoli are cooked toss them in the pan with the garlic and oil sauce. You can make the sauce without the parsley for this variation. Then add a ladle of reserved pasta water, and optionally some parmesan cheese (we like to add dairy-free parmesan), stir, and serve.
Cooked this way the broccoli becomes creamy and turns into delicious garlic, oil, and broccoli sauce. I am sure you will absolutely love this recipe.
Garlic and oil pasta with lemon
Another classic recipe is lemon pasta with garlic and oil. To make it fry the finely chopped garlic and the grated lemon zest in the oil for a minute on medium-low heat then add the lemon juice, stir, and turn the heat off.
Red chili flakes and parsley are optional in this one.
When the pasta is al dente toss it in the pan, add the lemon juice, a ladle of reserved pasta water, and finish cooking for a minute until the sauce thickens up.
Add the parmesan cheese (or dairy-free parmesan if you are 100% plant-based), optionally some dairy-free butter, and freshly ground black pepper, then turn the heat off and keep mixing till the pasta is well combined with the sauce and creamy.
Taste and adjust for salt, then serve immediately and enjoy with some freshly grated lemon zest on top, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Pasta with garlic and oil and spinach
We love this variation with lemon and spinach so much that we wrote a dedicated blog post for it. To prepare it, follow the instructions above for the pasta with garlic, oil, and lemon to make the sauce.
Then add about 15 to 18 ounces (400 - 500 grams) of fresh spinach to the sauce, season them with a pinch of salt and let them cook for 5 minutes till soft. Now toss in the pasta very al dente. Finish cooking for another minute with a ladleful of reserved pasta water, then serve.
If you want to make this recipe even more scrumptious you can add a tablespoon of vegan butter and parmesan to it. It'll be even creamier.
Garlic and oil pasta with pan-fried tofu
Have you ever tried adding pan-fried tofu to garlic and oil pasta? It's a great combination, especially if you are trying to replace chicken or shrimp.
Pan-fried tofu has the perfect texture and its neutral flavor makes it the ideal choice if you want to add some plant-based protein and healthy fats to this pasta recipe.
To make it is simple. First, pan-fry the tofu following our recipe. It's a 3 step process that takes about 15 minutes max.
While the tofu fries, cook the pasta and prepare the garlic, red chili flakes, parsley, and oil sauce. Toss the pan-fried tofu in the garlic and oil sauce, stir then add in the pasta.
Stir the pasta with the sauce and the tofu, adding a ladle of reserved pasta water if necessary, and optionally some dairy-free parmesan cheese.
I know this recipe might seem a little unconventional, but trust us, it's delicious! It's the perfect alternative for those who are trying to eat less meat and more plant-based.
Chop everything in advance
If you haven't done garlic and oil pasta before my advice is to chop the garlic and the parsley before you start cooking the pasta. This is because you need to give your full attention to the garlic while it gently fries in the oil.
Garlic burns very easily in hot oil, so you need to make sure that the oil doesn't become too hot. If you burn the garlic don't worry, this happens. But you'll need to start again, or your pasta will taste bitter and burned.
Pasta types for garlic and oil pasta
This recipe is best with long pasta types. Spaghetti or linguine are the best. Another thing you should look for when you buy your pasta is the ingredients. Unfortunately, pasta has a bad reputation for being unhealthy, but this cannot be further from the truth.
Authentic Italian pasta, made from durum wheat semolina flour or whole wheat - best if organic - is an incredible food. It has a perfect balance of protein (13g) and carbs (73g), is low in fat (1.5g), and has a low glycemic index. Just make sure you don't buy low-quality pasta made from white refined flour.
Salt the pasta water
With all pasta recipes, and in particular, with this one, is very important to put a generous amount of salt - at least one tablespoon for 3 to 4 liters (1 gallon) of water - into the water you cook the pasta in. In Italy, we add 10 grams of salt per Litre of water.
If you don't salt the pasta water, the pasta will not be as tasty. I kid you not, growing up in Italy, I've seen family dinners end up in highly heated discussions with lots of drama, just because someone forgot to add salt to the pasta water.
You can use any salt to do that. However, the best salt is coarse sea salt. Sea salt is healthier than table salt and it gives a better flavor to the food since it contains natural minerals. Good quality sea salt is made by letting the seawater dry in the sun. Table salt, on the other hand, is made by chemically extracting the salt from the ground, then adding chemicals to it to make it stay dry.
Italian aglio olio traditions
In Italian "aglio olio" means garlic (aglio) and oil (olio). In some regions this dish is called "spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino" - peperoncino meaning red hot chili peppers.
Among the Italian youth, spaghetti aglio e olio is often referred to as "midnight spaghetti" as it's often prepared after a long night out partying, to satisfy the most untamable late-night cravings.
Growing up in Italy I would go back home after a long night out with a couple of my best buddies and cook a quick, delicious, and satisfying midnight snack of pasta aglio e olio in the middle of the night. There's really nothing better than that!
You can store garlic and oil pasta in the fridge for 24 hours, although like with most pasta dishes, it's best if you eat it straight away.
To reheat it, warm up a tablespoon of olive oil on a pan, and sautée the pasta in it for a couple of minutes.
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
Garlic and Oil Pasta (Spaghetti Aglio e Olio)
- 11 ounces spaghetti
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ tablespoon red pepper flakes or 1 fresh red chili finely chopped
- ⅓ cup olive oil extra virgin
- 2 handfuls flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
- 1 gallon water to cook the pasta
- 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt for the pasta water
- To a large pot, bring about 1 gallon (3 to 4 liters) of water to boil, then add the salt and the pasta. Cook it as per package instructions minus 1 minute.
- While the pasta cooks finely chop the garlic, parsley, and fresh red chili (if you use red chili flakes you don't have to chop them).
- To a large skillet add the olive oil and warm it up on medium-low heat. Add garlic and red chili. Fry for 30 to 60 seconds. Turn heat off. Set aside. Don't burn the garlic.
- When the pasta is almost cooked, turn the heat on again until the garlic starts to fry then add the finely chopped parsley and turn the heat off again. Move the pan around to disperse the parsley in the oil. Let fry with the residual heat of the pan.
Toss in pasta
- Reserve one cup of pasta water. Drain pasta. Toss pasta in the pan with sauce. Turn heat on medium. Add 1 ladle of reserved pasta water. Finish cooking while mixing the pasta for one last minute, then serve immediately.