Emergency no-groceries pasta

I’m pretty good at menu planning, but some weeks things just go off the rails. There’s a sickness or a deadline or Sara’s traveling. Somehow nobody makes it to the grocery store and we eat through all the reserves. Then comes the night when the boys are deep into frozen dino nuggets and alphatots, and there’s Sara and I, totally exhausted and without any food in the fridge, discussing a the pros and cons of a dinner of cereal and wine. And that’s when I break the glass on this emergency recipe that doesn’t look like much but is actually pretty delicious, comforting and packed with flavor. Put it in your back pocket, friends, for when times are tough.


Officially, it’s called “pasta aglio e olio,” that’s Italian for ” pasta garlic and olive oil.” I actually made it for my Italian relatives once. They loved it, but they had never heard of it before.

All the ingredients you need: dry pasta, garlic, red pepper flakes and parmesan. You can also throw in olives or any vegetable that is about to die in the fridge. Kale and broccolini are great.

Pasta Aglio e Olio


1 pound spaghetti
4 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup parmesan plus more for the table
Salt and pepper


Put well salted water on to boil. I sometimes also put my pasta bowls in the over and turn it on to warm them up. In the mean time, finely chop the garlic. In a large frying pan, pour enough good olive oil to cover the bottom. Over medium heat, sauté garlic and a big pinch of red pepper flakes (I like to go hard on the red pepper, personally.) Pull it off the heat just as the garlic begins to brown. You can, during this step, throw in vegetables or olives. When the water is boiling, slide in the pasta and set a timer so you don’t overcook it. While you wait, grate the parmesan. KEY: When the pasta is ready, but before you drain it, dunk a measuring cup into the pot and collect about a cup of hot, starchy pasta water. Put the garlic pan back on the hot burner (you probably don’t even have to turn it on for the oil to start bubbling) throw the drained pasta in the pan, and toss it around with a pair of tongs. Shake the parmesan on top of the pasta and pour about a half cup of the water over the parmesan to melt it and make the pasta saucy. Toss to combine. Salt and pepper generously. Serve immediately in warm bowls.

Here’s a video of me making this dish on KTVA. Below, the pasta, ready for its close-up.