New Rule: When making pasta, sauté garlic cloves to season the oil, then toss them out before adding the other ingredients. This infuses the oil with subtle garlic flavor that doesn’t overpower other flavors.
Americans used to the garlic-loaded pastas at red-sauce Italian-American joints are in for a surprise. In Italy, cooks throw away their garlic, and their food is better for it!
That’s because Italians appreciate a more subtle approach to garlic flavor. So when using garlic in a pasta or a sauce, they typically start by sautéing a handful of lightly crushed cloves in olive oil. After a few minutes — and before the garlic browns and turns acrid — they spoon it out and throw it away.
At that point, the garlic has done its job, infusing the oil with gentle flavor and aroma that permeates the noodles and sauce without overpowering other flavors. And without leaving unpleasant pungent chunks of garlic floating in your sauce.
Of course, it all comes down to preference. If you like the heavy hand with which American-Italian cooking brings on the garlic, go for it. And what’s not to love about garlic bread dripping with butter and minced cloves?
But for pasta and sauces, more often these days we prefer the more subtle approach we’ve seen used by countless cooks around Italy. Cooks near Naples, for example, taught us to throw out our garlic when sharing with us a minimalist take on classic puttanesca and a simple pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe.
For the puttanesca, Antonella Scala invited us to her kitchen outside modern Pompeii for a scaled-down version bearing little resemblance to the long-simmering pots of sauce to which we were accustomed. Absent were ingredients we thought were traditional, like anchovies, and she tossed out the garlic after it flavored the oil. We didn’t miss it. The pasta was coated in a bold sauce laced with briny pops of olives, spicy red pepper flakes, sweet canned tomatoes and salty capers.
In nearby Gragnano, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, Alfonso Cuomo let several cloves sizzle in a glug of olive oil before discarding them. He crumbled sausage seasoned with fennel seed and chili flakes into the oil, browning the meat in an aromatic puff of smoke. After wilting broccoli leaves in the skillet, he added barely cooked pasta with a splash of the cooking water, infusing the noodles with flavor as they finished cooking.
Both pastas were redolent of garlic, but just enough for a savory undercurrent that allowed the other ingredients to shine. We applied the lesson to our own simple—and surprisingly speedy—versions of these pastas, including the best puttanesca recipe and orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. Check out the recipes below, and for more New Rules, find our cookbook here.