People tend to associate pasta sauce with a lot of simmering, seasoning and tasting, but not all sauces need to be heavy on the labour, even if it is a labour of love. If you start with a super flavourful ingredient — such as roasted garlic — you barely have to do anything.
People are usually looking for the easiest way to do a thing, whether that thing be holding a burrito upright, eating a pineapple, or peeling garlic. I appreciate this drive, not only because my entire career is fuelled by it, but because I am very lazy.
Recently, I have been overcome with the desire to smear roasted garlic on everything. This isn’t very difficult to accomplish, but strands of pasta are a little too wiggly and frail to withstand a smear.
The solution, obviously, is to take a whole bunch of mellowed, sweet, jammy garlic cloves, and blend them with some olive oil (and a little bit of pasta water) into a sauce. Season with a little salt, and you’re done. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to aglio e olio, but with a deeper, roasted flavour and creamier consistency.)
The sauce also takes very well to tweaks and additions. You can swap out the oil (try pistachio), or you can add Parmesan, or fresh pepper, or chilli flakes, or even some crispy pancetta. Even so, the base sauce is good all on its own, and it (incidentally) happens to be vegan.
It does require a lot of garlic (several heads), but I’m comfortable with it, and most recipes never call for enough garlic anyway. To make it, you will need:
- 4 (very) large or 6 small heads of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil for every head of garlic
- 225g dried spaghetti or angel hair
- Fine sea salt
Preheat your oven to 220C, remove the excess paper from the outside of your garlic, and slice off the tippy tops of the heads to expose the cloves. Drizzle on a little olive oil, tap the heads on the counter, and wrap the garlic in foil.
Roast in the oven until they are a nice amber colour (but not burnt) and your kitchen smells divine. To check on the colour, gently peel back the foil starting at the 30-minute mark, and repeat every five minutes or so until it’s done. (You can use a towel so you don’t have to touch the foil directly, but I just use my bare hands; aluminium cools pretty quickly.)
Remove the roasted cloves — a pickle fork makes this very easy — and place them in a food processor along with one tablespoon of olive oil for every head you roasted. Try to avoid adding burnt bits of garlic, as this will make your sauce bitter. Add two big pinches of salt, and blend into a smooth puree. Taste, and add more salt if needed.
I roast a lot of garlic. The deeply flavorful, slightly caramelised cloves are wonderful pureed into tomato sauce, spread of top of a steak, or smeared directly across a piece of good bread. They are, however, kind of messy to extract from their paper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and cook your pasta according to the package instructions. When the pasta is al dente (a little toothsome) transfer it to a large mixing bowl with tongs. Toss the pasta with the garlic puree, adding pasta water as needed to help everyone become friends.
Once the garlicky goodness is evenly distributed throughout the pasta, pile it high on plates, and garnish with whatever you desire in your hungry heart. I like chilli flakes and Parmesan, but I think I’ll try it with fried capers next time. I do love fried capers.