Edmonton·FAST FOOD

How to make authentic Italian pasta

Daniel Costa is the chef/owner of three popular Edmonton restaurants - Corso 32, Bar Bricco and Uccellino - but he's also the head chef at home, too. Costa shares one of his favourite recipes that can be on the table in mere minutes.

Daniel Costa invites us into his home to share his favourite fast-food recipe

Costa uses dried chili peppers he grows in his garden as a finishing ingredient to his aglio e olio. (Phil Wilson)

After spending countless hours weekly kneading, rolling, and cooking pastas at work, you would think the last thing chef Daniel Costa would want to do is cook pasta at home.

But pasta is on the Costa family dinner table multiple times per week.

"When cooking for restaurants, you zone in on refinement, perfection, and execution throughout a service. Cooking at home is more of a natural and simple process," says the chef who lives and breathes Italian food.

His restaurants — Corso 32, Bar Bricco and Uccellino — are among the finest Italian restaurants in Canada, yet Costa remains perpetually inspired by the simple, delicious Italian food from his father, Mario. 

Daniel Costa started it all with Corso 32 on Jasper Avenue. Bar Bricco and Uccelino now complement his trio of restaurants, all next door to each other. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Costa grew up eating a lot of slow-cooked bean soups, simple greens, and pasta at least four times per week. "During the summer months, many of our meals revolved around our garden. A lot of fresh tomatoes, onions, and basil, with lots of olive oil," says the chef. House cured meats like capilolla or soppressata were also featured prominently, as was a cheese, caciocavallo, generally brought back from Mario's hometown in a suitcase. 

Though Costa is all grown up, with a partner (Megan) and son (Gennaro), family dinners look much the same as they did years ago. Bean soups, garden vegetables, pasta, and lots of olive oil are still mainstays, with a brand new back yard pizza oven about to be christened this spring.

One of his favourite dishes is spaghetti aglio e olio, which is simply spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. It's a dish he fondly reminisces about sharing as lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack with his dad. 

Daniel Costa invites us into his kitchen for a lesson in simple Italian cooking. 4:45

The key to a great spaghetti aglio e olio is starting with the best ingredients.

A great dried spaghetti should have a slightly rough looking exterior, which allows the sauce to cling to the pasta. An ultra smooth cheap spaghetti won't have the same desirable chew to it, and the sauce will slide right off. Two current favourite brands are Verrigni and rustichella d'abruzzo. 

There are only a few simple ingredients needed to make aglio e olio. A good quality pasta, Italian parsley, garlic, peppers and pecorino cheese. (Phil Wilson)

A great olive oil also elevates this dish, so this is where you use your best stuff. Costa recommends Frantoi Cutrera, a Sicilian oil available at the Italian Centre Shop, as is the pasta.

Be sure to cook the spaghetti al dente, as finishing the cooking in the hot garlic oil with a splash of pasta water is essential to the pasta soaking up all the flavour. 

Though there are many versions of this dish across Italy, and most do not include cheese, Costa loves the addition of finely grated pecorino romano, which adds a beautiful extra layer of  saltiness.

Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Pecorino (garlic, oil and sheep cheese)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams high quality spaghetti (I suggest Rustichella Di Abruzzo or Verrigni)
  • 4 large cloves of garlic lightly crushed
  • ½ cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 fresh chilies cut in half lengthwise 
  • ¾ c Pecorino Romano, ground
  • Handful fresh Italian Parsley roughly chopped
  • 1 cup white wine

Procedure

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil.

Add the spaghetti, cook 2 minutes prior to package instructions or until very al dente.

While the pasta is cooking: 

Place the olive oil, garlic cloves and chilies in a large shallow pot and heat on medium high heat.

Fry the garlic until lightly golden, add the white wine, allow to cook for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat. At this point you can remove the garlic cloves and Chili or leave in. 

Using tongs place the spaghetti directly from the boiling water into the pot of sauce.

Continue cooking on maximum heat until reduced and creamy.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the pecorino and parsley. If your sauce is a little to tight stir in a splash of the pasta cooking water. 

Serve immediately with more pecorino on top. 

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