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Spaghetti With Garlic And Olive Oil

`My variation on this old Roman specialty has long been comfort food to me, so it had to have a place in my book of Italian favorites,' James McNair writes. `It's quick, easy, and very satisfying, making it a great supper after working too long or when there's little time for cooking.

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`This is one dish in which I take on any number of Italian cooks and authors. Most brown the garlic in the oil, then discard it; I use a more gentle hand in cooking the garlic so that it never browns and adds bitterness, and I leave it in the oil for added flavor. And for some unexplained reason that I fail to comprehend, the Italians serve this dish without any cheese. I much prefer my California version, which is showered with the world's finest cheese.'

4 quarts water

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic, or to taste

3 anchovy fillets, drained and minced (optional)


3/4 pound imported Italian spaghetti

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Freshly ground black pepper or crushed dried hot chile

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, preferably flat-leaf type

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

In a large pot, bring the water to a rapid boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed saute pan or skillet, combine the oil, garlic, and anchovies (if used) over low heat and cook until the garlic just begins to take on a hint of color; do not brown the garlic or it will turn bitter. Remove from heat.

When the water boils, stir in 1 tablespoon salt. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook, stirring frequently, until tender but still firm to the bite. Timing will depend upon the brand; refer to the manufacturer's directions as a starting point, but begin to taste test the spaghetti before the time listed on the package. Drain well and transfer to the pan holding the garlicky olive oil. Toss well and season to taste with salt and black pepper or chile flakes.

Divide evenly among individual pasta dishes. Sprinkle each portion with parsley, crown lavishly with the cheese, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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