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In Italy I ate aglio, olio e peperoncino spaghetti which had a strong tasting sauce that I really liked.

When I make it at home, it becomes slightly bland unfortunately (e.g. using this recipe excluding the parsley). While the spicy taste of the pepper does come through nicely, the taste of the garlic seems to disappear, or at least is not as present as I would like it to be. The taste I am looking for resembles the garlic punchiness in aioli (I think, I find it hard to describe).

What I've tried so far to improve it (without success):

  • Fry the garlic a little longer before adding the pasta
  • Smash the garlic instead of cutting it in thin slices
  • Add a bit more salt at the end

Not sure if it matters: I'm using a garlic very similar to this one and this olive oil specifically.

How can I make the garlic more present in an aglio e olio pasta?

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    How would you describe the garlic flavour you're after? Would you say it's punchy and strong like aioli or more mellow and softer like roasted garlic? Commented Jun 19 at 22:54
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    I think somehting more towards the punchy taste of aioli. Commented Jun 20 at 6:15

3 Answers 3

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You may simply need more garlic, but if you're after punchy garlic, cooking it less might be better.

Combining these two ideas, you might want to fry the amount of garlic called for in the recipe (perhaps sliced) then add the same amount again (crushed) when you add the spaghetti or even slightly later.

This lightly simmered or steamed garlic will mellow far less than that fried until golden, which is still worth including as a background, and because it's more tolerant of being too generous.

It may be that the recipe writer had more potent garlic than you, or bigger cloves, or perhaps you just have a taste for extra garlic. The other thing is that with 2 hot chillies in there, everything else may be overpowered.

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    This is the correct answer. Garlic is one of the few ingredients that is more prominent the less it is cooked. You can get a stronger flavour in certain preparations (e.g. a vinaigrette) giving it more time to blend/"diffuse", but if heat is involved, the lesser the better. Try to make pasta aglio e olio by adding raw garlic straight from a garlic press after you remove the pan from the stove :) Commented Jun 20 at 14:48
  • I spent years before I learned this… I would add many bulbs worth of garlic to a pot of slow cooked sauce, and there was never any obvious garlic flavor. Adding garlic late in the cooking is key. (And how it’s cut)
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 22 at 13:42
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    Tried this, put 2 cloves sliced at the beginning (as per recipe) and added a small clove just after I transferred the pasta to the oil, worked really well, thanks! Commented Jun 27 at 22:05
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The flavor of garlic is extremely sensitive to how it’s been prepared, particularly how much heat has been applied and whether it’s been stored long-term after being crushed/sliced/minced or not.

This is because a lot of the compounds responsible for the stronger and sharper flavor of fresh garlic are either highly volatile (and thus heating them causes them to evaporate) or decompose readily into other compounds when heated.

What this means is that for a strong, sharp garlic flavor like you would get from aiolli (or from just biting into a clove of garlic), heat (and to a lesser extent time) is your enemy. In your case, try using as much garlic roasted as the recipe calls for, but then add in some fresh crushed garlic when you add in the pasta, and I suspect you will get a flavor much closer to what you’re aiming for.

Additionally, any green parts inside a clove (really the beginnings of a new shoot) tend to be more bitter and less sharp. This isn’t especially noticeable in most dishes, but it can still have an impact in things like aioli or pasta aglio e olio where garlic is one of the biggest parts of the flavor profile. You can offset this by either discarding any green bits you find when slicing/mincing the cloves, or by using younger cloves.

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The molecule in garlic that is responsible for the trademark flavor and aroma is allicin. It is formed when cell walls in the garlic are breached, causing the alliin within to come into contact with the alliinase enzymes. This is why garlic that has been processed less has a less pronounced flavor, i.e. crushing it vs chopping it vs using the cloves whole.

Allicin is also highly unstable and will break down fairly quickly after formation, which is why store-bought minced garlic is always so toned down in flavor compared to a freshly minced garlic clove. This process also speeds up during cooking, so the hotter/longer you cook the garlic, the less flavorful it becomes.

From these two bits of knowledge, the way to maximize the impact of garlic in your food is to do the following:

  • Always use whole garlic cloves, never pre-minced. Farm or garden fresh would obviously be best.
  • Pulverize the garlic as much as possible, ideally with a mortar and pestle to get a homogenous paste. (If slicing, the thinner the slices, the better.)
  • Use the garlic as quickly as possible. Minimize the amount of time between processing and eating.
  • Cook the garlic on as low heat as possible for as little time as possible.

And, of course, there's always the obvious solution of just adding more garlic.

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    While your explanation is correct, traditional aglio e olio would not call for garlic in paste form. Garlic pulverized into a paste is generally a rare occurrence in traditional Italian pasta dished.
    – moscafj
    Commented Jun 21 at 15:02
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    @moscafj True, but if OP is having issues getting the garlic flavor to come through (perhaps they simply can't find very good quality garlic where they are from), then using fresh garlic paste instead of - or in addition to - sliced garlic is a potential workaround.
    – Abion47
    Commented Jun 21 at 19:15
  • sliced garlic would be a much more common approach in this traditional dish.
    – moscafj
    Commented Jun 21 at 19:42
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    @moscafj I'm not disagreeing. Like I said, garlic paste is merely a potential solution if OP simply wants more garlic flavor.
    – Abion47
    Commented Jun 21 at 22:25

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