“I never ‘got’ Italian food when I was young,” says Jordan Toft, executive chef at Sydney's Bert’s. “It was always big, overcooked bowls of pasta with sauce on the top.” It wasn’t until he moved there that he understood: “It’s about letting the two things marry together, so they become one.”
In the case of this incredibly simple recipe, Toft says the key is the movement of the pan after the spaghetti and its cooking water have been added. Keep swirling so everything mixes together and you end up with a silky-smooth sauce.
When Toft is entertaining at home he likes to grill meat over fire. Later, when the guests who’ve stuck around start getting hungry again, this recipe is his go-to. It’s quick to prepare, doesn’t require many ingredients and only uses a single pan. “Traditional recipes don’t have Parmigiano, but I think it’s a nice addition, along with an anchovy or two for added savoury bite,” he says.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, by Jordan Toft
8 garlic cloves, sliced translucently thin
2 anchovy fillets
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch dried chilli flakes, plus extra to taste
500g dried spaghetti
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley, including stems
Sea salt to taste
Cracked pepper to taste
60g pangrattato (toasted fine bread crumbs)
60g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Place a large pot of water on to boil. Salt generously, to the taste of the sea. Set a colander in the sink. Place the garlic, anchovies and half the olive oil over a low heat in a wide, shallow pan. Ensure it’s large enough to eventually accommodate all the pasta too. Warm through for 8–10 minutes, allowing the anchovies to “melt” and the garlic to turn translucent. Add chilli flakes and set aside.
When the water is at a rapid boil, add the pasta. Stir gently until it comes back to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes only. The pasta may seem slightly under cooked, but further cooking will happen in the sauce.
Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.
Return the garlic and anchovy sauce to the stove. Add the pasta, cooking water and the rest of the olive oil. Set the heat to medium-high and begin swirling the pan in a circular motion. Make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.
You’ll begin to see the liquid evaporating, leaving the olive oil to emulsify with the starchy cooking water. The slightly undercooked pasta will soften as it soaks up the sauce and absorbs its flavour. Add parsley, pepper and salt to taste, then divide between plates. The sauce should be ever-so-slightly hugging the spaghetti. Add a pinch of chilli flakes to each plate and a sprinkle of pangrattato and grated parmesan.
This is an extract from The Broadsheet Italian Cookbook, which features 80 recipes from Australia's best restaurants, cafes and bars. Buy now at shop.broadsheet.com.au.