Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan

Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan is a beautiful reminder that I don’t need nearly the number of things to be happy as I allow myself to believe. From four main ingredients—fresh garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, and spaghetti noodles—we can create an extraordinarily flavorful dish, lacking in nothing and satisfying everything our pasta-loving hearts desire.


Sharing in a tiny (550 square feet) apartment with another human being has taught me simplicity. For every new purchase that comes home, something else must be given away. Long gone are the days of holding onto old things “just in case.” As much as I would love to treat myself a Madeleine pan or popsicle mold or adorable cake stands in assorted sizes, I must be honest with myself about the fact that our lone closet is already bursting with winter coats, laundry detergent, and wrapping paper. The vacuum cleaner? Forget it—that beast sits out in the open.
The same more is more logic can be applied to cooking—isn’t a dish with more ingredients inherently better than a dish with fewer? Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan heartily disagrees, and I am betting my last salted caramel that, after just one bite, you will disagree too.

Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan is my final installment in this month’s Quick and Easy Recipe Series. My personal twist on the classic Italian spaghetti aglio e olio or “midnight spaghetti, Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan transforms four simple ingredients into a robustly flavored, satisfying dish. It simultaneously bursts with flavor and celebrates simplicity.

The trick to this pasta’s speed and its rich flavor is quick roasted garlic. I adore roasted garlic but seldom have the patience to wait the full hour it takes to soften and caramelize in the oven when roasted whole. My trick: peel and separate the cloves, toss them with a bit of olive oil, pop them in a high-heat oven and, boom! Lovely, rich roasted garlic, ready in 15 minutes flat.
From here, we now need our other to flavor factors: extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan. Choose wisely here. Because Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan has so few ingredients, each one is important. I love the freshness and fruitiness of California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and I grate my Parmesan straight off the block—this is no place for the stuff in the green can. I purchased the least expensive Parmesan at Trader Joe’s, grated up the whole shebang in the food processor, then transferred it to an airtight container where it will keep in the fridge months (not that we’ll be waiting that long). When handled this way, the price difference between “green can” Parmesan and real Parmesan is minimal and the quality difference is exponential, even if like me, you purchase the store brand.

  •  20-25 cloves garlic, — peeled (1 large head)
  •  1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil — plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  •  13 ounces dried whole wheat spaghetti 
  •  2 tablespoons kosher salt — plus 2 teaspoons, divided
  •  3/4 cup Parmesan cheese — divided, plus additional for serving.
  •  1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  •  1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley

  1. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place garlic cloves in a small, ovenproof pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss to coat evenly. Place pan in oven and roast until garlic is light golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and cook pasta until al dente. When the pasta is ready, reserve 1 and 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid for use later in the recipe. Drain remaining water, then set pasta aside, tossing it with a bit of olive oil to prevent noodles from sticking.
  3. When garlic has finished roasting, transfer the cloves and any oil left in the pan to a food processor or blender. Add 1/4 cup of Parmesan, then pulse a few times to combine. With the food processor or blender running, slowly pour in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and blend until mostly smooth.

  4. Heat a skillet large enough to hold the pasta over medium. Add the garlic –olive oil mixture and red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the reserved pasta cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and add remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, until reduced by about 1/3.
  5. Add reserved pasta to the skillet and toss to coat. Remove pan from heat, add remaining 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and parsley, then toss well. Allow the mixture to rest for 5 minutes so that the noodles absorb the sauce. Serve warm topped with additional Parmesan.

Recipe Notes

Time-saving tips: To quickly peel garlic, separate the cloves, leaving the peels on. Place clove on a cutting board, lay the flat side of a chef’s on top of the clove, then carefully hit the flat side of your knife with your hand. The pressure will loosen the skin, making it easy to peel away. Do not worry if you partially crust the garlic. To quickly grate Parmesan: Cut the wedge of cheese into large chunks, then place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse several times until grated.